Calls to reduce the electricity bill for big industrial producers are being made by leading politicians, who, like others in Germany, fear the country could lose its position as an industrial powerhouse as it gradually shifts away from fossil fuel-based production.
“It is in the interest of all of us that this strong industry, which we undoubtedly have in Germany, is preserved,” Lars Klingbeil, head of Germany’s leading government party SPD (S&D), told Bayrischer Rundfunk on Wednesday.
To achieve this, Klingbeil is advocating a reduced electricity price for the industry of about 5 to 7 cents per Kilowatt hour, which the federal government would subsidise. This should be introduced within the next year and last for about 10 to 15 years, he said.
Under the current support scheme, which was financed as part of the €200 billion “rescue shield” against the energy crisis, energy-intensive industries already pay 13 cents per Kilowatt hour (KWh) for 70% of their previous electricity needs, which is substantially lower than the 30 to 40 cents per KWh that private consumers pay.
“We see that the Americans, for example, are spending $450 billion on the Inflation Reduction Act, and we see what China is doing in terms of economic policy,” Klingbeil said.
“If we find out in 10 years that we have let all the large industrial companies slip away because the investments are not being made here in Germany or Europe, and jobs and prosperity and growth are being lost here, then we will lose as a country,” he added.
However, not everyone in the German coalition favours subsidising electricity prices.
Finance Minister Christian Lindner of the liberal FDP (Renew), for example, has argued against such a step, instead promoting free-market principles and reducing taxes on electricity for all.
“Privileging industrial companies would only be feasible at the expense of other electricity consumers and taxpayers, for example, private households or the small trade sector,” Lindner wrote in an op-ed for Handelsblatt on Tuesday.
“Increasing competitiveness for some would mean a loss of competitiveness for others,” he added.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz, himself a member of SPD, was more careful with his words.
Asked about a subsidised electricity price for the industry at a town hall event on Monday, Scholz said he does not “want to make any promises now”.
“First of all, we have to make sure that we have cheap electricity in Germany in the first place,” Scholz said, promoting the expansion of renewable energy such as wind and solar as well as more electricity grid infrastructure.
“What we will not be able to do as an economy is to subsidise everything that takes place in normal economic activity,” Scholz said. “We should not get into the habit of doing that,” he added.