German Farmers criticise EEG amendment amid gas shortages 

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Bioenergy and German farmers’ associations have criticised the country’s renewable energy act (EEG) amendment passed in the Bundestag on Thursday, July 7, on the grounds that it does not provide sufficient support for biogas.

“It is completely incomprehensible that in the middle of this far-reaching energy crisis, a sustainable domestic energy source such as biogas is being curbed in the production of electricity, heat, and biomethane,” Bernhard Krüsken, secretary-general of the German Farmers’ Association (DBV), said.

This will make Germany “even more dependent on coal and natural gas in this crisis”, he added.

Energy and climate minister Robert Habeck, presented his drafts for the so-called ‘Easter Package’ back in April, intended to massively accelerate the expansion of renewable energies in Germany.

The core of the package is an amendment to the renewable energy act, which the Bundestag passed in its final reading on Thursday after the Climate Protection and Energy Committee had reached an agreement on the matter on Tuesday.

However, the amendment “almost completely ignores” the potential of bioenergy, the association Hauptstadtbüro Bioenergie, which represents various associations in the bioenergy sector, said in a statement.

One of the associations’ concerns is that funding for biogas plants is not secured in the long term. To help with this, they have demanded an economically profitable follow-up solution for already existing, subsidised plants after the current remuneration period ends.

“Currently, biogas plants can be operated profitably due to high energy prices, but they need a safeguard on the revenue side, as there are continuous investments to be made,” explained the head of the Hauptstadtbüro Bioenergie, Sandra Rostek.

In view of impending gas shortages in the coming winter, Rostek also called to eliminate legal barriers in terms of licensing, so that existing biomass plants could increase their electricity production on short notice.

This could serve to “reduce Germany’s dependence on Russian gas imports and thus help Germany achieve resilience as an industrial base,” Rostek said. Given the difficult situation in the gas market, Germany needs bioenergy “now more than ever,” she added.

Rostek also pointed out that the European Commission had already endorsed the idea that “biogas is an essential building block against dependence on Russian gas” in its REPowerEU package.

The EU executive presented the package in early March in order to strengthen the independence of the European energy supply as quickly as possible in view of the Russian attack on Ukraine.

Among other things, the plan envisages doubling the EU-wide target for biomethane production to 35 billion cubic metres per year by 2030.

The Commission also called on member states to use their National Strategic Plans for the implementation of the EU Common Agricultural Policy reform to mobilise additional funding for the promotion of biomethane from sustainable biomass sources, such as crop residues.

In its feedback letter on Germany’s draft plan, the Commission stated that in order to make the agricultural sector more sustainable and crisis-proof, there is a need to “increase the sustainable production and use of biogas.”

However, the production of biogas has not been completely undisputed.

While biogas plants often provide an important additional source of income for local farmers and can contribute to local production of electricity and heat, critics argue that the production diverts important side products of agriculture, such as manure or crop residues, away from the “core business” of food production.

Moreover, biogas is not produced from by-products that arise anyway, but from specially cultivated energy crops such as maize or wheat, another argument comes into play: the competition for arable land.

This aspect has gained particular momentum in the wake of the war in Ukraine and the consequent pressure on global food supplies.

“Biogas is not an alternative to natural gas. This is because the cultivation of energy crops displaces food production and any further pressure on natural ecosystems endangers biodiversity,” a statement by Greenpeace reads.

Meanwhile, in addition to the subsidy for biogas, another aspect of the renewable energy act amendment has drawn farmers’ criticism: in order to promote the development of solar power, the amendment also foresees the expansion of so-called stand-alone photovoltaic systems on agricultural land.

The German Farmers’ Association had repeatedly advocated the expansion of solar installations on rooftops first instead of on open agricultural land in order to avoid the loss of arable land.

The association is particularly critical that, according to the amendment passed on Thursday, stand-alone systems are to be built on larger strips than before – up to 500 metres next to motorways and railway tracks.

“This will lead to agri-structurally disadvantageous fragmentation of land and promote the loss of highly productive agricultural land,” said Krüsken. Instead, the association advocates that the turbines be built primarily on low-yield land.

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