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London — German energy minister Peter Altmaier reiterated Tuesday plans to halve coal-fired power output by 2030, but dashed hopes for quick action on coal by saying plans to exit nuclear power generation by 2022 are a 'double challenge' preferring a more gradual approach with the 'coal commission' to safeguard jobs.

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In a speech at the Berlin Energy Transition conference, Altmaier confirmed the government's climate targets for 2030 including a 60% cut in carbon emissions for coal-fired power plants, saying this would necessitate halving output from lignite and hard-coal-fired power plants.

Such plants still contribute almost 40% to German electricity with over 210 TWh generated in 2017 despite first steps in closing the oldest units.

"Germany is facing a double challenge in phasing-out fossil fuels due to the decision to exit nuclear energy production by 2022," Altmaier said echoing his predecessor as energy minister Sigmar Gabriel who said it would be impossible to phase-out nuclear and coal at the same time.

Germany's nuclear phase-out plan was initiated 20 years ago with the final six reactors set to close by end-2021/22 respectively.

But Altmaier also underlined Germany's commitment to the Paris climate agreement including phasing-out fossil fuels in energy by the middle of the century, but saying that this will be a gradual process.

Setting up a so-called 'coal commission' will be the first step by the new government. Last week, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Altmaier's economy and energy ministry will have the overall responsibility, but the commission will also include the environment, employment and homeland ministers.

Altmaier did not reply to a question whether this commission will deliver first results including a final date for the coal exit by the end of this year, but pointed to the long-term success of such commissions "in achieving compromise that lasts even after governments change."

Key priority for him as energy minister will be the expansion of the power grid as it is the pre-condition for a successful energy transition with major changes to Germany's power landscape.

Emissions from Germany's power plants dropped by almost 5% last year to 319 million tons of CO2 equivalent (MtCO2) with the utility lobby group BDEW seeing the sector on track to achieve even its 2020 targets.

Emissions would need to drop well below 200 MtCO2 by 2030 to achieve the government's target, which also includes a 65% share of renewables in the power mix, up from 36% in 2017.

The Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue is a high-level conference organized by the foreign and energy ministries with ministers from over 40 nations discussing sustainable international energy and climate policy including EC energy chief Maros Sefcovic and IEA executive director Fatih Birol.

--Andreas Franke,
--Edited by Jeremy Lovell,