Saturday, December 1, 2012

Germany's Nuclear Phase-Out Brings Unexpected Costs

I mentioned this article back during the time it came out.  Unfortunately, that blog post no longer exists.  This shows what happens when you take an expensive source of electricity and build your economy around it.
After two weeks, the first letter arrives. The second notice comes a week later. On the fourth week, the bell rings and a technician from the power company, Vattenfall, is at the door. He has a black toolbox under his arm and he means business.

Aminta Seck, 39, has been through this twice before. If she doesn't pay the technician at least part of what she owes the company, he'll disconnect her electricity, leaving Seck and her three-year-old son Liam sitting in the dark in their two-room apartment, without lights, a working stove, refrigerator or TV.

Electricity prices in Germany have risen by more than 10 percent since the current coalition of the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP) took office. The price hike has been too much for some like Seck, an unemployed decorator from Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg district.

"Approximately every tenth household currently has problems paying for rising energy costs," says Holger Krawinkel at the Federation of German Consumer Organizations.

Left in the Dark

About 200,000 recipients of Hartz IV, Germany's benefits program for the long-term unemployed, had their power cut off last year because of unpaid bills, according to Paritätische Gesamtverband, an umbrella association for social movements in Germany.

The consumer protection organization for the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia estimates that number to be as high as 600,000 per year. Ulrike Mascher, president of VdK, an interest group focusing on social justice, uses terms such as "fuel poverty" and a "blatant violation of fundamental social rights," when talking about the issue.

Meanwhile, the next price hikes are just around the corner. "The cost of electricity will rise, there's no question about that," says Jochen Homann, head of Germany's state-run Federal Network Agency. 

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