Germany looks to step up coal exit timetable

Until now, Berlin had named 2038 as the latest possible date to power down the final coal-fired generators (AFP Photo/John MACDOUGALL)

Frankfurt am Main (AFP) - Germany could end electricity generation from coal in 2035, three years earlier than previously planned, under a pact sealed Thursday between Chancellor Angela Merkel and leaders of affected states.

Merkel and premiers from Saxony-Anhalt, Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia and Brandenburg agreed overnight a "shutdown plan" for the country's power plants using the highly polluting fossil fuel, her spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement.

Until now, Berlin had named 2038 as the latest possible date to power down the final coal-fired generators.

Now, reviews in 2026 and 2029 will examine "whether the moment to shut down the plants can be brought forward by three years," Seibert said.

Meanwhile the deal would also spare the Hambach forest, a wood in western Germany threatened by the expansion of a vast open-pit brown coal mine that became a focus for mass protests.

Ministers now plan to propose a draft law on the exit from coal "in January" and pass it "in the first half of 2020".

Germany is under pressure to clarify how it plans to accelerate its "energy transition" away from fossil fuels and towards renewables, with a target to generate 65 percent from carbon-neutral sources by 2030.

Over the same period, Berlin aims to reduce output of greenhouse gases by 55 percent compared with 1990's levels -- a target agreed under pressure from demonstrators last year.

But the task has been complicated by Merkel's decision to end nuclear power generation by 2022, leaving coal as the main backstop to renewables during the transition period.

The fuel currently powers around one-third of the country's electricity.

On top of climate and energy supply challenges, Germany must also wrestle with the social consequences for coal-producing regions of dropping the fuel.

An "adjustment fund" for workers in black and brown coal plants and brown coal mines is planned to compensate them until 2043, Seibert said.

Meanwhile the federal government will support the four affected states with 40 billion euros ($45 billion) of cash and other support between now and 2038.