June 24, 2019 / 4:01 PM / a year ago

Merkel's Bavarian allies snub her coal exit plan

BERLIN (Reuters) - Conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Bavarian allies have called for Germany to phase out coal by 2030 but the government has insisted on keeping its 2038 target, in the latest sign of strain within her coalition.

The call by Markus Soeder, the premier of Germany’s economic powerhouse state of Bavaria, could further test Merkel’s right-left coalition administration which has been shaken by policy disputes and dire results in European Parliament elections.

“The German climate targets could be reached by 2030 only if we massively speed up the coal exit,” Soeder, whose Christian Social Union (CSU) is the sister party of Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), told the Muenchener Merkur newspaper.

“In the end we must actually exit (coal) in 2030.”

The government on Monday rebuffed Soeder’s proposal and said it would stick to its plan to exit coal by 2038 as recommended by a commission of experts who estimated the phase-out would cost 40 billion euros ($45.54 billion) at least.

“We are determined to implement the recommendations of the coal commission,” government spokesman Steffen Seibert said on Monday.

Bavaria has little to lose from speeding up the coal exit. It is home to only 5 of the more than 100 coal power stations in Germany and it has no coal mines.

Soeder’s remarks also reflect alarm within the CSU at the rise of the ecologist Greens who came in second in an election in Bavaria last year and are the most popular party nationally according to polls.

Last year, Germany raised its target for the contribution of renewables to 65 percent by 2030 from 50 percent in a bid to reduce CO2 emissions by 55 percent over 1990 levels. It is set to miss a 2020 target aimed at cutting emissions by 40 percent.

There are mounting doubts that Merkel’s conservative-led coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD) as junior coalition partners would serve its full term until 2021.

The SPD suffered painful losses at the EU elections last month and have been under pressure to quit the coalition the reluctantly joined after election two years ago.

Their leader Andrea Nahles stepped down earlier this month as the party’s popularity in polls hit a record low.

Merkel’s climate policy has been controversial. Critics say her abrupt decision to phase out nuclear power in Germany after the Fukushima disaster in 2011 has driven up energy prices and increased Germany’s dependence on coal.

($1 = 0.8784 euros)

Additional reporting by Andrea Rinke and Markus Wacket, Writing by Joseph Nasr, Editing by William Maclean

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