Green dream land
How to explain the fact that Germany’s ‘super minister’ for the economy and climate insists on the one hand that renewable energy is the cheapest around while at the same time feeling the need to subsidise Germany industry so that they can afford their electricity bills?
Germany now produces half of its power with renewables but prices remain so outrageously high that climate minister Robert Habeck has decided that a €30 billion annual subsidy is the only way to stop aluminium smelts and other heavy industry from moving abroad.
In Habeck’s jargon, the huge subsidy - which will cap industry electricity prices at 6 cents per kilowatt/hour - is a “bridging price” that will transport German industry into the land of milk and honey that awaits in a fully green future.
"We want to avoid permanent subsidies. So we're proposing a bridge that will lead to a future with low renewable electricity prices and no subsidies," Habeck proclaimed.
But, stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
Germany has already invested hundreds of billions in the construction of its green energy grid. There are now 30,000 turbines spinning up and down the country.
But, the more electricity produced with renewables, the further prices have risen. In fact, the only country in the world with a higher household electricity price also happens to be the only country that is more reliant than Germany on wind turbines.
The tab has always been picked up by ordinary households, who for years paid high feed-in tariffs that heavy industry was given a pass on. The reason: industry needed to be spared to prevent deindustrialisation and job losses.
But ordinary Germans were always kept sedated with the promise that one day that promise of cheap electricity would be realised.
It also takes some chutzpah from Habeck to call his subsidy a “bridging price”. The euphemism of bridging is one that Merkel’s government already used to talk about Russian gas. That was a “bridging technology” to a fossil-free future that Germany became so hopelessly dependent on that it was prepared to look the other way while the Kremlin grabbed a chunk of a neighbouring country.
That Mr Habeck can hold such contradictory positions in his head simultaneously might tell us something about the company he keeps.
In recent weeks it has become apparent that his ministry is something of a family affair. His two chief advisors are brothers in law. One of them, Patrick Graichen, has had to publicly apologise after he appointed a friend who was best man at his wedding to the position of head of the national energy agency. Graichen only realised that this might be a case of a conflict of interest after the press got wind of it.
Graichen’s brother and sister both work for the country’s second most influential environmental lobby, which regularly receives paid work from the climate ministry. His sister, Verena is married to Habeck’s other aide, Michael Kellner.
Before becoming Habeck’s chief aide, Graichen ran the country’s most influential environmental lobby organisation - Agora Energiewende - where he belonged to a small elite who discuss policy ideas at a handful of similarly named think tanks.
In this world, the lines between politics, advocacy and even journalism are blurred.
The money that pays for these organisations comes from one or two extremely wealthy organisations, many of which are financed by a US billionaire called Hal Harvey.
Agora Energiewende receives funding from the same source as a news site for “top quality journalism” called Clean Energy Wire that sees its mission as explaining Germany’s energy transition to the world.
But when Clean Energy Wire writes about Agora it doesn’t see the need to mention a clear conflict of interest: that both organisations are primarily funded by the Mercator Stiftung.
In this world, people rotate seamlessly between positions in the Green party, think tank and ‘journalism’ jobs, and government posts. It is an ecosystem ripe for group think, where people are essentially paid to come up with the intellectual validation for their rich donors' beliefs.
So, when a minister (never the sharpest knives in the draw) hires all his advisors from inside this system, should we be surprised that he thinks that energy is getting cheaper even as prices go up?
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