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District heating distribution station in Stuttgart

Photo: Marijan Murat / dpa

On the way to climate-friendly heating, the Ministry of Construction wants municipalities to submit heat plans six months earlier than previously assumed. This emerges from an updated draft law of the ministry, which is available to SPIEGEL. The draft was sent to states and associations on Friday, after which it will be coordinated with the other ministries.

Specifically, municipalities are to submit plans in the coming years on how they want to convert their heating infrastructure to be climate-neutral. For large cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants, these heat plans should be ready by mid-2026, all other municipalities would have to submit them by June 30, 2028. Until now, there was no such obligation for municipalities with fewer than 10,000 inhabitants.

The heating plans of the municipalities are intended to be an important orientation for citizens, because they can find out whether their house will soon be connected to a district or local heating network – or whether they should convert their heating to a heat pump in the foreseeable future. This is because the law for municipal heat planning is closely interlinked with the controversial Building Energy Act (GEG). Only when such a heat plan is in place should owners be obliged to heat with at least 65 percent renewable energies if their old heating system breaks down. Exceptions are new development areas, where this obligation will apply as early as 2024.

Experts fear that some municipalities will delay their heating plans as much as possible. Because heat plans usually mean the end of gas heating, municipalities may find it difficult to communicate this to voters. According to Rolf Bösinger, State Secretary in the Ministry of Construction, this cannot be ruled out. "But the pressure on municipalities will increase if energy prices rise for their citizens," he told SPIEGEL. Sitting out this development would therefore lead to a dead end. However, Bösinger also emphasized: "Many municipalities have already set out and developed their own heating plans. This trend will intensify.«

In order not to overwhelm smaller municipalities, Construction Minister Klara Geywitz (SPD) is planning simplified procedures for them. Neighbouring municipalities should be able to work together and draw up joint plans. In addition, areas can be designated in advance where there will most likely be no heat or hydrogen network. In this case, reduced requirements for further heat planning apply. The authorities do not need new data from citizens.

Financial aid from the federal government

According to the draft, the federal government wants to help the municipalities financially. However, this only applies to the preparation of the heating plans – and not to their implementation, for example the development of a district heating network.

According to estimates by the Competence Centre for the Municipal Heat Transition (KWW), around 400 municipalities nationwide are already working on heat planning. Baden-Württemberg is a pioneer here with around 200 municipalities. But Schleswig-Holstein, Lower Saxony and Hesse are also quite far along – all federal states in which there is already a legal obligation for municipal heat planning. In about a dozen municipalities, the heat plans have already been completed. Here, owners will no longer be allowed to install new gas heating systems in old buildings as early as 2024 – but only if the municipal heat planning already meets the requirements of the federal law.

Actually, 2030 percent of district heating and other heating networks should be fed from renewable energies by 50. This is now to be relaxed. By 2030, a share of 30 percent renewables is to be prescribed, and by 2040 80 percent. However, the goal of climate neutrality by 2045 is not to change.