German Tenants Win Right to Generate Solar Power on Rented Roofs

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition is widening access to the solar power market for people who rent their homes in a move to boost green power’s expansion in an election year.

Lawmakers are set to pass legislation dubbed “Tenant Power” on Thursday in Berlin. The bill promises owners of tenant blocks a subsidy of as much as 3.8 cents (4.3 U.S. cents) a kilowatt-hour for generating solar power on rooftops or from basement combined heat and power units. As many as 3.8 million rental properties could benefit from the move, according to the government.

The bill seeks to balance rights between renters and homeowners, who “participate directly in expanding renewable energy in contrast to tenants,” according to the bill. The legislation seeks to open solar power to wider groups as the pace of German rooftop installations slows, falling for a third year and running below the government’s annual 2.5-gigawatt goal.

“Harnessing solar power on city and town rooftops is more than overdue and it’s fair to potentially millions of tenants who benefit only indirectly from clean power subsidies,” said Konstantin Francke, the spokesman for Germany’s BSW solar power industry group.

At just over 50 percent, Germany has the lowest tally of home ownership in the European Union, underscoring the potential of renters to catalyze solar growth. Just 1.5 gigawatts of solar power were added last year after subsidies were tapered.

The legislation envisages that housing block owners will pass on subsidies earned by erecting solar systems to tenants in the form of cheaper electricity. The decentralized power supply isn’t liable for transmission fees, making both parties potential winners of home-generated power supply.

The BSW and the opposition Greens criticized some aspects of the legislation, including its capping subsidies at 500 megawatts a year.

The law also limits aid to residential blocks that add solar systems to roofs, not to wider estates that may be linked by ownership but be unsuitable for solar power generation. Critics also point out that tenants must pay clean energy surcharges on the power they draw from rooftops.

As wind power picks up the slack on German clean energy additions, rapid growth in the surcharges has become a political liability for Merkel ahead of September federal elections.

The surcharges payable on clean power are compulsory for most Germans and added about 23 billion euros ($26.3 billion) to electricity bills last year. The costs may rise rapidly to 2019 as record amounts of onshore wind come online.

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