Word is leaking from Germany that grid operators will jack up the surcharge that consumers have to pay for renewable electricity by nearly 50 percent.
As the country abandons nuclear power following the Fukushima disaster, it is trying to increase the mix of “green” technologies like solar and wind. But someone has to pay for that shift, and that someone, increasingly, is the consumer.
The surcharge, levied by operators to recoup costs – they have to buy the power in the first place from producers at above market rates – will jump from 3.6 eurocents per kWh in 2012 to 5.3 cents per kWh in 2013, reports Reuters, citing a government source.
Watch for an official announcement on Oct. 15.
That 47 percent escalation could feed an 11 percent jump in the average electricity bill, Reuters notes. Like most people around the world, the average German certainly can’t expect an 11 percent pay rise, so the surcharge will put a solid dent in household budgets.
NO FREE BRATWURST
It’s the old cliché about no free lunch. If German people don’t want nuclear power and instead want to shift to solar and wind, then the German people will have to pay for it. There is no solar Santa Klaus.
The same has held true in other countries. In the UK, for instance, “have not” utility customers foot the bill for photovoltaic panels that the “haves” can afford to put on their rooftops. A government mandated “feed-in” tariff requires utilities to buy the solar electricity at hefty rates; the utilities then recoup the expenditure by increasing the bills of the people who can least afford it.
It’s an effective way of stimulating renewables – and to be clear, renewables belong on the energy landscape – but one that not everybody realizes comes out of the consumer’s pocket.
As long as we’re all reaching into our hard earned cash, why not try something like this for alternative nuclear – for the thorium, molten salt, pebble bed and other technologies that could help turn nuclear into the efficient, meltdown proof, proliferation resistant, waste-light power source that it could be? Remember, that power would be CO2-free, and would run ‘round the clock, not just when the wind blows and the sun shines.
It would also eliminate the price volatility associated with fossil fuels (two utilities in Britain, British Gas and Npower, today announced hefty increases in gas and electric charges, blaming rising wholesale gas price in part).
The UK government wants consumers to help foot the bill for conventional nuclear, through a proposed scheme called “Contracts for Difference,” that guarantees a return to utilities that would tap into a new nuclear plant.
It’s time to think creatively in terms of financing alternative nuclear, which could outperform conventional nuclear in so many ways.
THE PEBBLY ROAD NOT TAKEN
Circling back to Germany, one of those alternatives which we just wrote about – the thorium-powered pebble bed reactor (PBR) – coincidentally has a strong German history. Today the PBR reflects a new attempt at an innovative financing scheme, as South Africa’s Steenkampskraal Thorium Ltd. is reaching out to potential industrial users as financial partners. China also has a considerable pebble bed initiative under way.
The pebble bed technology originated in Germany in the 1960s. The country gave up on it in the late 1980s, a couple of decades before walking away from all nuclear last year. Now it’s asking consumers to foot the bill for renewables that can only chip away at the nuclear gap.
Then there is the other cost that Germans are paying: the environmental one. So far, Germany is making up a lot of its nuclear shortfall with fossil fuels. Hello CO2 and its global warming act. That’s a considerable price for anyone to pay.
Photo: Jacques Grießmayer via Wikimedia