21st Feb 2024

Germany begins dismantling wind farm for coal

  • German energy giant RWE has begun dismantling a wind farm — to make way the expansion of its Garzweiler open-pit mine (Photo: Alle Dörfer bleiben)
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German energy giant RWE has begun dismantling a wind farm to make way for a further expansion of an open-pit lignite coal mine in the western region of North Rhine Westphalia.

One wind turbine has already been dismantled, with a further seven scheduled for removal to excavate an additional 15m to 20m tonnes of so-called 'brown' coal, the most polluting energy source.

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The demolitions are part of a deal brokered last year between Robert Habeck, the Green party's minister for economy and climate action and Mona Neubaur, who is the economy minister for North Rhine Westphalia, to allow the expansion of the mine.

In return, RWE had to agree to phase out coal in 2030, eight years before the previous deadline. "It's a good day for climate protection," Habeck said at the time.

But this week's move has sparked sharp criticism from activists.

"The current climate emergency requires urgent and concerted efforts to accelerate the deployment of every single wind turbine, solar panel and heat pump that we can muster," said Fabian Hübner, a senior campaigner at Beyond Fossil Fuels, a German-based coalition of climate activists.

"Anything that diverts from this critical endeavour, especially the dismantling of renewable energy sources to extract more fossil fuels, must be unequivocally prohibited," he added.

But RWE and Germany's government have persistently justified the expansion of the so-called Garzweiler coal fields by pointing to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the ensuing energy crisis.

According to RWE, the expansion is necessary "due to the energy crisis." The government in Berlin follows this logic. Indeed, some of the leading advocates of RWE's coal expansion plans come from the Green Party, one of three ruling parties in Germany's current 'traffic light' coalition with centre-left SPD and business-friendly FPD-party.

Habeck has defended the expansion as the "right decision." Green party politician Oliver Krischer has described the expansion and earlier phase-out as "one of the greatest advances we've made in recent years,"

But energy consultation firm Aurora has found that expanding the Garzweiler open-pit mine would cause the country to overshoot its climate pledges. Researchers also said lignite coal is likely to end in 2030 anyway because it is rapidly becoming uneconomical compared to other cheaper energy sources such as solar and wind.

This is reflected in Eurostat data, which shows coal consumption for electricity in Europe was down by 40 percent in 2022 compared to 2017.

Displacement and demolition

The enlargement of Garzweiler has also led to significant destruction and displacement of communities in the area west of Cologne in recent years. Several municipalities have had to be relocated.

This came to a head in January when the German court in Münster allowed RWE to demolish the town of Lützerath, which sat at the edge of the open-pit mine.

Thousands of activists flocked to the town to block its destruction. Hundreds of military policy finally evicted the activists after a days-long siege.

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