MAC: Mines and Communities

Germany approves energy tax reform despite steel sector protests

Published by MAC on 2014-07-14
Source: Steel First

"[I]t seems that German steelmakers are not the only ones that will increasingly need to include the social costs of pollution into their calculations for costs of production"

This is a comment made by Steel First, following an interview the president of Germamy's steel association, WV Stahl, late last month.

Mr Kerkhoff was deploring the introduction of a new carbon tax on the use of "self generated" power, part of Germany's attempt to strengthen its Renewable Energy Act and promote "green" alternatives.

Globally, steel output creates the second most egregious toll of greenhouse gas emissions (second only to the burning of coal); and Germany is the largest steel producer within the European Union.

In Europe as a whole, "the entire steel industry may face exponentially higher CO2 emissions costs in Phase 3 of the European Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS)", according to Steel First.

In fact, the industry has aready benefitted from huge discounts under earlier phases of the scheme.

Arguing that the new tax impositions will severely damage Germany's own steel production, Mr Kerkfoff says, rather disingenuously : "We are not asking for political measures [with the discounts], we are asking for free and fair trade."

Yet, at the same time, he rejects any notion of imposing a carbon tax on steel imports into the country.

Which would seem not only fair, but logical.

Germany approves energy tax reform despite steel sector protests

By Lisa Barrington

Steel First

27 June 2014

The German parliament has voted to approve new renewable energy legislation which includes changes contested by national steel association WV Stahl, the German energy ministry said on Friday June 27.

The assembly in Berlin passed the reformed renewable energy act (EEG) on June 27, which includes levels of tax surcharges applied to energy consumers put in place to help achieve the country's targets for a switch to environmentally friendly resources.

"The truth is that this EEG is only the beginning of everything we have to do in this legislative period. Our task is now to put the individual components of the move towards renewable energy into a systematic relationship with each other," German energy and economics minister Sigmar Gabriel said in a speech to the German parliament on June 27.

As part of the reforms, industry groups which generate their own power, such as steel producers, will pay more than previously discussed.

Industries using existing power plants to generate energy will pay 30% of the €0.0624 ($0.0849) per kWh renewable energy tax from August 1, 2014.

This rate will increase to 35% in 2016 and to 40% in 2017.

Earlier this week, WV Stahl objected to the 30% rate, which is double the 15% previously put forward by the ministry.

European competition commissioner Joaquín Almunia is negotiating with Berlin on the legality of applying the EEG legislation to power generated by industrial companies from by-products.

A spokeswoman for the commission could not comment on the outcome of the talks.

"The commission is in discussions with the German authorities. Our assessment is not yet concluded at this stage, and we cannot prejudge the outcome of our assessment," she said.

Germany and the EU previously agreed on a different part of the EEG reforms that looked at tax discounts for energy-intensive industries such as steelmaking, after Brussels launched an investigation into the legality of these discounts in 2013.

German steelmakers ThyssenKrupp and Salzgitter have previously spoken out against the government's plans to tax power generation for a company's own use.

Interview: Energy debate crucial for future of German steel, Kerkhoff says

By Nina Nasman

Steel First

26 June 2014

Following a long debate, the German parliament is scheduled to vote on Friday June 27 on a reform of the renewable energy act (EEG). This includes a discount for energy-intensive industries in international competition, including steelmakers.

"The current debate on energy is crucial for the future of the German steel industry," Kerkhoff said on the sidelines of the the 4th International Conference on Steels in Cars and Trucks, in Braunschweig.

High energy costs

In the race to meet targets for the use of renewable energy by 2020, Germany has been pushing fast and hard to pass its reformed EEG into law by August 1, 2014.

But the country's steelmakers, which face some of the highest costs for energy in Europe, are worried about falling behind their competitors if the energy-tax discounts previously afforded to them disappear from the renewed EEG.

"Energy costs are not just about price; the costs are high in Germany due to support for renewable energies," Kerkhoff said.

"The energy costs of the steel industry nearly doubled between 2003 and 2013, and if the current discounts offered to industry are taken away, costs would nearly double again," he said.

Global steel producer ArcelorMittal is paying €30 million ($41 million) more for energy each year at its 7 million-tpy German operations, compared with counterparts in the rest of Europe. This is despite a discounted surcharge provided for by the EEG, the head of ArcelorMittal's German facilities told Steel First at the end of 2013.

Debating discounts

The European Commission started an investigation into the German renewable
energy tax discount in December last year.

In April this year, the German ministry of economic affairs and energy said that it had agreed with the Commission that the discounts do not violate European Community rules on state aid.

Having already drafted the reformed EEG before the Commission arrived at its decision, the German parliament started in early May to debate an  amendment to the new law which would maintain the discount for energy-intensive industries such as steelmaking in international competition.

More dispute was caused, however, by a provision in the amendment concerning tax discounts for industries which generate their own power.

On June 25, the ministry of economic affairs and energy confirmed that changes had been made to the legislation, raising the tax surcharge for industrial groups generating their own power to a level higher than was previously discussed.

Such measures would affect, for example, German steelmaker Salzgitter, which since 2010 has invested €270 million ($368 million) in its flat steel subsidiary Salzgitter Flachstahl, to generate electricity out of by-product gases from its coke plant and blast furnace.

"Frankly, I do not know if the end-result will be positive," Kerkhoff said of the upcoming vote in the German parliament.

Staying competitive

The WV Stahl president emphasised that the principal reason to maintain the discounts is to keep the German steel industry competitive within the EU.

"We are not asking for political measures [with the discounts], we are asking for free and fair trade," Kerkhoff said.

However, the German steel sector is already faring better than its counterparts in many other EU countries, he added, thanks to a strong industry and close relations "within a highly differentiated value network where universities and research institutes also play a role".

"The German steel industry will reach the pre-crisis [of 2008] level by 2015, while the EU steel industry as a whole will still be 25% below pre-crisis levels," Kerkhoff predicted, noting however that there are large differences between regions and products.

Total crude steel production in the EU's largest producing nation, Germany, increased by 7.3% year-on-year to 3.9 million tonnes in May 2014, according to the latest data from the World Steel Assn. The figures compared with falling output in France, Italy and Spain, and a global growth average of 2.2%.

Global issue

While Germany and Europe are not isolated from global competition, with imports also posing a threat to the region's steelmakers, the imposition of taxes on steel products coming in from outside the EU is not a viable option, according to Kerkhoff.

"I do not see a discussion on carbon taxes for steel imports into the EU happening, and from my point of view there is no need for such a measure," he said. "Increased protectionism could lead to a global distortion of the steel trade."

Curbing pollution among steelmakers is not only a German or European undertaking, however.

US steelmakers are setting up new production units for direct reduction iron (DRI), including Nucor's recently commissioned plant in the state of Louisiana, to ride the wave created by the cheap and less-polluting shale gas fuel option.

And the Chinese government in Beijing passed amendments to its environmental protection law in April which created tougher penalties for polluting companies, with implications particularly for steelmakers using coal-burning blast furnaces.

In Europe, meanwhile, the entire steel industry may face exponentially higher CO2 emissions costs in Phase 3 of the European Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), delegates heard at Metal Bulletin's 20th International Iron Ore Symposium in Stockholm, Sweden, on June 25.

While margins continue to be squeezed across the European steel sector, it seems that German steelmakers are not the only ones that will increasingly need to include the social costs of pollution into their calculations for costs of production.

"Energy policy has become a game-changer for the industry," Kerkhoff said.

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