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Germany counts cost of N-power cuts

German households are facing a 50% rise in a tax to fund the country's switch from nuclear power to renewable energy sources.

Chancellor Angela Merkel was praised last year when she announced the change, in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in Japan.

But only 18 months into the plan, the cost of the switchover is beginning to sink in. Some politicians, fearful of losing popular support for the transition, are demanding an overhaul of the mechanism to pay for it.

The country's four main grid operators said the tax will rise from ?0.36 euros to 0.53 per kilowatt hour. A typical family of four will pay about 250 euros (£200) per year under the tariff, including a sales tax.

"Electricity should not become a luxury item," warned Michael Fuchs, a leading MP from Ms Merkel's centre-right coalition. "The energy switchover will at the end only be successful when met with broad public support."

Nuclear power has been controversial in Germany for decades and opposition grew after the 1986 disaster at the Chernobyl plant in Ukraine sent a radioactive cloud over the country. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets after last year's Fukushima nuclear disaster urging the government to shut all reactors quickly.

Mrs Merkel's government decided to shut down the country's eight oldest reactors immediately and speed up the phase-out of the remaining reactors. Nuclear power's share of the German energy market has since declined from 23% to about 17%, with renewable energies shooting up from 20% to a quarter.

Now, however, complaints are growing about the rise in costs of electricity, particularly for lower-income families.

Germans already pay some of Europe's highest electricity prices, averaging about 24 euro cents per kilowatt hour compared with about 13 euro cents in France or 14 euro cents in Britain, according to EU figures.

Germans have long been paying a surcharge on power bills, which guarantees producers of alternative energies a return on their investment above market rate. That is widely credited with boosting renewable energies and making Germany a leader on "green technologies."

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