Sunday, 28 May 2023

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‘Outraged and furious’: Germans rebel against gas boiler ban

‘Outraged and furious’: Germans rebel against gas boiler ban

Frank Krusche says he is not against heat pumps in principle. It is just that to install one he would have to knock down his house and build a new one.

“They only work in low-energy houses — and mine isn’t,” said Krusche, an engineer from eastern Berlin. “To make it truly energy efficient, you’d have to rebuild the whole shell, including the roof.”

The reason he is even having to contemplate such drastic action is because of a government bill that in effect bans new gas boilers in Germany from January 1 next year. From then on, newly installed heating systems would have to be at least 65 per cent powered by renewables.

Dubbed the “heat hammer” by the popular press, it is one of the most radical pieces of climate legislation Germany has ever produced. Ministers say it is pivotal to the country’s plan to be carbon neutral by 2045.

But the bill has triggered a popular backlash of exceptional intensity. Germans are worried about the enormous cost of switching from gas or oil-fired boilers to heat pumps and the tight deadlines the bill imposes.

“People are outraged and furious,” said Petra Uertz of the Residential Property Association. “They can’t understand why it has to happen so quickly.”

A newly installed heat pump stands under solar energy panels at a residential house in Berlin © Sean Gallup/Getty Images

The controversy over the bill has pitched chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government into its worst crisis since taking office nearly 18 months ago. MPs were supposed to debate it in its first reading this week, but the liberal Free Democratic party (FDP) — one of the three parties in Scholz’s coalition — postponed the parliamentary discussion, saying the bill still needed work.

Suddenly, the plan to pass the law before MPs rose for their summer recess was thrown into disarray. Green economy minister and deputy chancellor Robert Habeck, the bill’s main sponsor, accused the FDP of a “breach of promise”.

But the FDP believes it has public opinion on its side. A poll by Civey this week, carried out for the newspaper Die Zeit, found that 70 per cent of respondents wanted the bill to be withdrawn.

“This law affects 66mn Germans . . . and there is enormous disquiet,” said Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, a senior FDP MP. The Greens’ obsession with passing it before the summer break was absurd, she told public broadcaster ARD. “We shouldn’t be tying it to a particular date come hell or high water, there are things…

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