On September 5, 2009, a group of people gathered in Berlin, Germany to encourage the German government to stick with its plan to phase out the 17 nuclear power plants that current provide about 1/3 of its electricity supply. The organizers claim that the gathering included between 30,000-50,000 people from all across Germany and its neighboring countries of France, Denmark and Austria led by farm tractors said to be mostly from the Wendland area of Germany, located approximately 250 kilometers away from Berlin. Most of the media reports that I have read on the protest have reported that these farm tractor drivers are motivated by the desire to close the used fuel storage site hosted in a salt dome in Gorleben, which is in the Wendland region.
I remain a skeptic about the motives of the protesters and hope that the 82 million people in Germany that did not take part in the protest do some critical thinking and questioning before going to the polls later this month to elect a government that may or may not decide to extend the lives of the existing nuclear plants.
Here are some factors to consider:
- Who benefits if the plants are forced to stop producing power?
- Do farmers expect to gain additional markets for biofuels as a result of the phase out?
- Do natural gas suppliers expect to gain additional markets as a result of the phase out?
- Do companies in neighboring countries expect to sell additional electricity into Germany as a result of the phase out?
- Do coal suppliers expect to gain additional markets as a result of the phase out?
- Will wind and solar producers continue to sell more product with the phase out than with an extension of nuclear plant operation?
- Will Gerhard Schroeder’s income increase as Gazprom’s sales of natural gas into Germany increase?
After thinking hard about who wins if German utilities are forced to shut down relatively young nuclear power plants that have already been bought and paid for, consider what might happen if the plants do shut down with the potential for additional decades of reliable operation. Figure out if you will be a winner or a loser in the game.
- Will the price of electricity increase or decrease as a result of the investments required in replacement power?
- Will the air downwind of Germany get cleaner or dirtier?
- Will the cost of heating with natural gas increase or decrease as a result of increased competition for fuel with electricity production?
- Will the cost of manufacturing chemicals increase or decrease as a result of increased competition for hydrocarbon raw materials with electricity production?
- Will the cost of manufacturing in other energy intensive businesses increase or decrease?
- Will jobs leave the country as companies search for lower cost energy for manufacturing?
Once German voters have punched through the rhetoric and dug deeply into the issues of winners and losers, I expect that they will make a reasonable choice. I do not expect that the winners listed above will give up quietly. Many close observers agree that there will continue to be clashes, protests, and demonstrations. I just hope that they do not result in some of the violence that has been seen in previous episodes on this very contentious issue.