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Utilities Plan To Spend EUR60 Billion On New Power Plants In Germany

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04/23/2012 | 09:36am EDT

--Utilities eye EUR60 billion in investment to build new power plants

--Some 84 power plant projects in test phase, under construction or planned

--Industry group BDEW says enough capacity planned to offset nuclear exit

--But BDEW warns not all projects will materialize

(Rewrites throughout with further detail, background.)

Utilities are planning to invest billions of euros in the next few years to build new power plants that would add nearly as much generation capacity as the combination of the Netherlands and Belgium had available in 2009, the German main energy lobby group BDEW said Monday.

More than EUR60 billion could be invested to the end of this decade and into the next to build new power plants with a total generation capacity of around 42 gigawatt, said the BDEW--which represents utilities that account for 90% of German electricity and gas sales.

The projects include 84 power plants with at least 20 megawatt output capacity, ranging from coal- and gas-fired plants to renewable energies such as large-scale wind farms.

The comments come after Germany's government last year decided to accelerate its planned exit from nuclear energy following the reactor accidents in Japan. Atomic energy is expected to be replaced by renewable energies and low-carbon fossil-fueled power plants like gas-fired facilities.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's government last year said that Germany will need an additional 10 gigawatt of gas-fired power plants to make up part of the lost nuclear capacity. Gas power plants emit less carbon dioxide and are therefore the government's preferred technology to complement the still volatile and intermittent generation from renewable energies.

"The list [of planned] power plants is an optimistic view of investment developments," said the BDEW's managing director, Hildegard Mueller. "It demonstrates that there are enough projects in the pipeline to replace nuclear energy and complement [intermittent] renewable energies."

However, while the number of projects suggest there will be more than enough electricity supply to offset an accelerated nuclear exit in years to come, many projects may not materialize as utilities are reviewing the economic viability of conventional power plant--especially gas-fired facilities, the BDEW said.

Power plant operators have warned that the rapid expansion of renewable energies--particularly that of photovoltaic solar facilities such as rooftop installations--is steadily reducing the number of hours that fossil-fueled power plants are operating, making them less profitable.

Germany gives preference to electricity produced by renewable energies, with coal and gas-fired power plants only being used when there isn't enough wind and sun power to meet demand.

Additionally, prolonged approval processes, lawsuits from environmentalists and local residents against coal-fired plants and slow progress in connecting offshore wind farms to the power grid are jeopardizing some of the planned projects, it said.

Of the 84 power plants planned by utilities--including coal- and gas-fired plants --69 have already been approved by authorities, said the BDEW.

The list also includes 23 large-scale offshore wind farms and 10 pumped storage hydro power plants, it said. A further 15 projects are still in the planning stage, the BDEW said.

At the end of 2010, Germany had a total generation capacity of around 155 gigawatt. As part of the country's nuclear exit decision last year, however, some 8 gigawatt of nuclear generation capacity was lost.

For the sake of comparison, the Netherlands and Belgium had a combined generation capacity of around 43 gigawatt at the end of 2009, according to statistics published on the website of Europe's electricity industry group Euroelectric, which represents the interests of the pan-European electricity industry.

-By Jan Hromadko, Dow Jones Newswires; +49 69 29 725 503; jan.hromadko@dowjones.com

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