A German court today will begin hearing a case brought by the nation’s three largest utilities that could ultimately force taxpayers to foot the €19 billion ($21 billion) bill for shutting down the nation’s nuclear power plants.
The Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe will hear from representatives of utilities E.ON, RWE and Vattenfall in what is likely to be a precedent-setting case over paying for the costs of Germany’s shift to renewable energy.
After Japan’s Fukushima disaster in March 2011, the German government ordered the shutdown of all 25 nuclear power plants in the country. Eight nuclear plants were quickly switched off; the last 17 are to be shut by 2022.
The government’s decision to switch to clean energy and the subsidies it paid for renewables such as solar and wind led to a glut of electricity on the German market, causing the wholesale price of electricity to plunge by half.
Since Fukushima, RWE’s share price has plunged by 77 percent and E.ON’s share price by 63 percent, the the utilities have struggled under the electricity glut and the costs of retiring often-new power plants.
E.ON is Germany’s largest utility and RWE is the country’s No. 2. Vattenfall is owned by Sweden’s royal family and is Germany’s No. 3 power producer, with plants in Berlin and Hamburg.
The utilities want the German government — ultimately German taxpayers — to insulate them from the costs of the move toward renewable energy.
The lawsuit brought by the utilities claims that Germany’s switch to renewables was hasty, ill-planned and an infringement of their rights. The decision was taken by the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, in the days after the Fukushima disaster and quickly ratified by parliament.