US solar panel firm leaves gloomy Germany

German solar energy took another blow this week when US company First Solar confirmed the closure of a Brandenburg factory and the loss of more than 1,200 jobs. The collapse is particularly bitter as the firm had recently doubled production.

US solar panel firm leaves gloomy Germany
Photo: DPA

The news came on Tuesday, just a month after another major player in Germany’s solar industry, Q-Cells, went out of business.

The recent slashing of state subsidies for domestic solar panels installation was the main reason for the closure – it had dramatically reduced demand for the panels, First Solar CEO Mark Widmar said in a statement.

While the decision “was not one we took lightly,” Widmar said in a statement, the production of photovoltaic cells – solar panels – in Germany was no longer beneficial for the company.

More than 1,200 people now have until October to shut the plant down and find other work. A number of staff in the Mainz sales base will also lose their jobs, the company said.

Worldwide, more than 2,000 people – a third of Arizona-based First Solar’s manpower – will lose their jobs over the coming year.

First Solar was one of the largest solar panel producers worldwide and had kept going when other companies collapsed. But in 2010 it reported losses of €30 million and share prices plummeted.

Brandenburg State Premier Matthias Platzeck said he was concerned by the plant closing down and said the government would “do everything possible to support the area.”

Green parliamentary party leader Jürgen Trittin told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper he was disappointed, blaming the government’s decision to stop solar panel subsidies for putting manufacturers out of business in Germany.

The former environment minister singled out Economy Minister Philipp Rösler and Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen for particular blame.

“Thanks to Rösler and Röttgen eastern Germany is on its way to being de-industrialised for the second time.”

“Their misguided energy politics have driven the German solar industry to bankruptcy and ruined ten years of successful work,” Trittin added.

DPA/The Local/jcw

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German government announces fresh relief package for high energy costs

With Russia's invasion in Ukraine exacerbating high energy and petrol prices, Germany is set to introduce a second relief package to limit the impact on consumers.

German government announces fresh relief package for high energy costs

The additional package of measures was announced by Economy and Climate Protection Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) on Sunday.

Speaking to DPA, Habeck said the wave of price increases throughout the energy sector were becoming increasingly difficult for households to bear.

“Extremely high heating costs, extremely high electricity prices, and extremely high fuel prices are putting a strain on households, and the lower the income, the more so,” he said. “The German government will therefore launch another relief package.”

The costs of heating and electricity have hit record highs in the past few months due to post-pandemic supply issues. 

This dramatic rise in prices has already prompted the government to introduce a range of measures to ease the burden on households, including abolishing the Renewable Energy Act (EEG) levy earlier than planned, offering grants to low-income households and increasing the commuter allowance. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What Germany’s relief package against rising prices means for you

But since Russia invaded neighbouring Ukraine on February 24th, the attack has been driving up energy prices further, Habeck explained.

He added that fears of supply shortages and speculation on the market were currently making the situation worse. 

How will the package work?

When defining the new relief measures, the Economics Ministry will use three criteria, Habeck revealed. 

Firstly, the measures must span all areas of the energy market, including heating costs, electricity and mobility. 

Heating is the area where households are under the most pressure. The ministry estimates that the gas bill for an average family in an unrenovated one-family house will rise by about €2,000 this year. 

Secondly, the package should include measures to help save energy, such as reducing car emissions or replacing gas heating systems.

Thirdly, market-based incentives should be used to ensure that people who use less energy also have lower costs. 

“The government will now put together the entire package quickly and constructively in a working process,” said Habeck.

Fuel subsidy

The three-point plan outlined by the Green Party politician are not the only relief proposals being considered by the government.

According to reports in German daily Bild, Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FPD) is allegedly considering introducing a state fuel subsidy for car drivers.

The amount of the subsidy – which hasn’t yet been defined – would be deducted from a driver’s bill when paying at the petrol station. 

The operator of the petrol station would then have to submit the receipts to the tax authorities later in order to claim the money back. 

Since the start of the war in Ukraine, fuel prices have risen dramatically in Germany: diesel has gone up by around 66 cents per litre, while a litre of E10 has gone up by around 45 cents.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The everyday products getting more expensive in Germany

As well as support for consumers, the government is currently working on a credit assistance programme to assist German companies that have been hit hard by the EU sanctions against Russia.

As reported by Bild on Saturday, bridging aid is also being discussed for companies that can no longer manage the sharp rise in raw material prices.

In addition, an extension of the shorter working hours (Kurzarbeit) scheme beyond June 30th is allegedly being examined, as well as a further increase in the commuter allowance.