BERLIN (dpa-AFX) - Economics Minister Robert Habeck has spoken out in favor of an earlier coal phase-out in the east as well. An exit brought forward to 2030 would have to be agreed by consensus, the Green politician told the Deutsche Presse-Agentur. "I hereby pledge this to the state premiers and all workforces: this will not be decided par ordre du Mufti, but it must be perceived as a good plan in a broad alliance." He said he has sensible arguments for the plan. Under current legislation, the last power plant unit closures in Germany are scheduled for 2038 - at operator Leag in Lusatia.

Habeck said there was broad social consensus in North Rhine-Westphalia for an early coal phase-out in 2030. "Consensus doesn't mean that everyone will go along with it, but that it is politically wanted and supported. In eastern Germany, the skepticism is much greater. And then you have to see if such an agreement is possible." The lignite states in eastern Germany are Brandenburg, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt.

Saxony-Anhalt's Minister President Reiner Haseloff (CDU) warned against a quick exit from coal-fired power generation. "We have ensured the security of electricity supply for many German states in recent weeks and months primarily by keeping the base-load capable coal-fired power plants running in Brandenburg, Saxony and in Saxony-Anhalt," Haseloff told Die Welt. In this situation, he considers it disastrous to question the phase-out date of 2038. Any base-load-capable power generation should currently remain in the grid until one sees how the crisis develops, he said.

Habeck went on to say, "From my point of view, I won't make any secret of it, it is economically advantageous. Generating electricity from coal power after 2030 is no longer economically viable with certificate trading, which has now been tightened up again." Coal-fired power generation will become more expensive and unattractive.

Companies have to prove that they have rights to emit greenhouse gases that are harmful to the climate and can trade them among themselves if necessary. The number of these certificates is to be made more scarce. In addition, free allowances for industry will be phased out.

The Bundestag and Bundesrat had decided to bring forward the phase-out of coal in the Rhenish coalfield by eight years. Prior to this, an agreement had been reached between the German government, the government of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia and the energy company RWE. Under the agreement, three lignite-fired power plants will be taken off the grid as early as 2030. The agreement also includes that the power plant units, which were supposed to be shut down at the end of the year, will remain in operation at least until the end of March 2024 due to the energy crisis.

Habeck said, "If you delay the phase-out too long, you're making a bit of the mistake that the German automotive industry had to correct afterwards, with great force and very successfully: relying too long on what you think is the right thing to do." The auto industry had long relied on the internal combustion engine.

Security of supply must be guaranteed, Habeck said. "Hydrogen-capable power plants have to be built. They don't exist yet, they have to be developed and produced. This is a great economic opportunity for German industry to develop such types of power plants, test them here and then sell them worldwide." But they would have to be approved and built. Hydrogen is seen as a beacon of hope in the transition to a more climate-friendly economy.

"Something like this takes time, so you can't decide to phase out lignite in 2030 until 2028," the minister said. "That's too late. You might, if you decide it too late, have to live with technology after 2030 that nobody wants anymore and that is too expensive and ineffective. We don't have forever to fritter away the decision."

2022 was an exceptional year, he said. "That was not my personal plan and not the coalition plan to bring coal plants back online." But there was a war in Ukraine, he said, and half of Germany's gas imports were missing. "So we had to take what we could take." Before that, Russia was Germany's main supplier of natural gas. To save gas, coal-fired power plants have been brought back online to generate electricity.

"The first figures indicate that we have one percent more CO2 emissions in the energy industry than would be permitted under the Climate Protection Act. That is nothing to be happy about," Habeck said. But he said that could be made up in the coming years by accelerating the expansion of renewable energies and bringing forward the phase-out of coal. "This is not a full catastrophe now." According to the German government's goals, Germany should reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 65 percent by the end of the decade compared to 1990 levels./hoe/DP/he