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German renewable energy firms want priority status

Written by: Staff
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BERLIN, Apr 3 (Reuters) German firms that harness renewable energy sources like the sun and wind to generate power said today they planned massive investments in the coming years and demanded Berlin give them preferential treatment.

They said the notion of delaying Germany's planned phase-out of nuclear energy, an idea that has divided the ''grand coalition'' government and is expected to be a key issue at an energy summit starting today, was not even worth discussing.

In a statement issued shortly before the summit, called by Chancellor Angela Merkel, the German Renewable Energy Federation (BEE) said its members were set to invest 200 billion euros (1.1 billion) in the years to 2020.

''The three representatives of renewable energy therefore demand a clear priority in Germany's energy policy,'' BEE said, referring to three chief executives representing solar and wind power and ''biogas'' firms attending the summit.

The three men are Ulrich Schmack, CEO of biogas maker Schmack Biogas, Frank Asbeck, CEO of solar power firm Solarworld, and Aloys Wobben of wind power specialist Enercon.

They said renewable energy sources, which produce no environmentally damaging greenhouse gases, would provide most of Germany's domestic energy by 2020, and dismissed any revival of nuclear power.

''This debate will not lead us one step further when we in Germany want to wean ourselves off our dependency on oil and gas imports,'' Biogas's Schmack told reporters.

''Renewable forms of energy are the only ones that can do everything -- they provide heat, electricity and fuel. With a mix of solar, wind, geothermal, bio-energy and hydropower you can meet peak and base demand.'' Today's summit, which opened at around 2130 hrs, aims to work out a long-term energy strategy for Germany, which depends on imports to meet the power needs of its 82 million people.

NUCLEAR PLAN A politically sensitive plan to shut down all 17 of Germany's nuclear plants, which generate a third of its power, by the early 2020s is expected to dominate discussions.

The nuclear phase-out was agreed in 2000 after a hard-fought political battle, but conservatives close to Merkel have demanded a delay following a gas row between Russia and Ukraine that briefly disrupted supplies to Europe. Russian gas giant Gazprom threatened early this year to cut off gas supplies to Ukraine if it did not pay higher prices.

The SPD wants to stick rigorously to the plan because giving it up would lead to a serious loss of face, analysts say.

Conservatives and the utilities say Germany risks isolation if it turns its back on nuclear energy, which is coming back into vogue worldwide since it, like renewable sources, produces no greenhouse gases.

Merkel's conservatives (CDU/CSU) and their ''grand coalition'' partners, the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), agree that Germany must boost investment in environmentally friendly alternative sources of energy.

SPD Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel says he wants renewable energy to meet 20 percent of German demand by 2020.

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