Not here, where roses bloom and politics is the sport of gentlemen </snark>, but Germany. We noted the other day (scroll down – lots of good reading) that Germany was experiencing some buyers’ remorse over its decision to pull the plug on nuclear energy and that the prime minister, Angela Merkel, was beginning to signal a turnabout in policy.
But politics is politics. Merkel’s party, the Christian Democrats, are roughly comparable to America’s Republicans – that is, conservative leaning - and the Social Democrats to Democrats – liberal leaning, perhaps a bit more toward classical socialism than the Dems. Smaller, single-issue, regional and fringy parties usually form coalitions with the more like-minded of the big two. So, the Greens, the enviro-(friendly/extreme – your choice) party, usually works with the Social Democrats.
However, the governing coalition now consists of both big parties, rather like the Dems and Reps hanging out together. The result would please Dr. Dolittle.
So here’s the story, via Reuters:
Germany's Social Democrats are preparing to propose taxing nuclear power generators as they prepare for next year's federal election campaign, a move which will pit them against their conservative coalition partners.
And why do they want to tax nuclear plants now?
[The Social Democrats] said the largely written-off equipment was highly profitable while nuclear operators did not have to pay any carbon avoidance costs and benefited from favorable arrangements for insurance and decommissioning costs.
Huh? Isn’t that the benefit of nuclear power plants, that they run long enough to amortize their costs, don’t emit carbon dioxide and are safe enough to do well on actuarial charts? It’s hooey through and through, but really, has more to do with this:
[Christian Democratic] politicians argue Germany must run its nuclear power stations beyond 2021 as they provide one third of the country's electricity needs which cannot be immediately replaced by renewable energies or thermal plants burning other fuels.
And, we’d add, not as inexpensively. The efficacy of nuclear energy seems to have put the Social Democrats in a knot. The thought here seems to be that if new taxes pass costs on to consumers, the value of nuclear energy diminishes. It’s hard to think of anything in American politics as utterly harebrained – well, okay, shortsighted - as this and that’s going some.
But there’s a however:
Relations are already strained in the coalition and utilities have stepped up calls for a nuclear rethink.
Fritz Vahrenhold, head of the renewable business unit RWE Innogy of the RWE group, Germany's largest power producer, said on German radio the tax idea was out of the question as Germany was heading for power supply gaps.
We can’t pretend to understand the ins and outs of German politics and it may be that this coalition is constantly in pushmi-pullyu mode on a whole range of issues. One could easily imagine the electorate surging further left or right just to do away with the arrangement. Regardless, the more we look at the German responses to nuclear energy – especially as regards the current sense of urgency – the deeper into the back alleys of cuckoo land it goes.
We can’t hazard a guess on the next move, but it’s fascinating to watch play out. Stay tuned.
I’d hoped to find a picture of the pushmi-pullyu from the (dreadful) 1969 Rex Harrison movie. This version was used in a revival of the stage musical in England. I suspect if things go well with the donkey, the verdant fields of England will be rife with camels and anteaters.