In the energy crisis, it looks as if climate protection will have to give way to security of supply. Because Russia has stopped supplying gas, other fossil sources such as hard coal, lignite or oil are increasingly being used, the carbon dioxide balance of which is much worse.
In order to still meet the climate targets, the federal government, North Rhine-Westphalia and the energy company RWE concluded an agreement on Tuesday to phase out coal early. According to this, RWE will withdraw completely from lignite-fired power generation by 2030, not only in 2038, as previously planned. This affects three blocks in the Rhineland, each with an output of 1000 megawatts (MW). All other 13 RWE plants will be taken off the grid by 2030 at the latest, or already are.
The premature closures left 280 million tons of coal in the ground, half of the volume approved by 2038, said Federal Minister of Economics Robert Habeck and his Düsseldorf colleague Mona Neubaur (both Greens). This saves the emission of 280 million tons of carbon dioxide. Eight villages and field farms were preserved in the Garzweiler opencast mine. “From now on, there will no longer be any resettlement against the will of those affected,” assured Neubaur.
“Milestone for climate protection”
Habeck spoke of a “milestone for climate protection” that would ensure freedom and prosperity “beyond the day”. For the eight lignite-fired power plants in eastern Germany, which belong to operators such as LEAG and Uniper, the previous phase-out schedule will remain in place. Separate talks would have to be held about this, said Habeck.
From the point of view of critics, the agreement with RWE also has a downside. Despite all the protests, the town of Lützerath has to give way because the coal underneath is needed for electricity production and the area for later recultivation. Activists announced resistance immediately after the decision. “It will be similar to the Hambach Forest,” said Christopher Laumanns, spokesman for the “All Villages Remain” organization.
In addition, by 2030 even more lignite is to be burned than previously planned: at the weekend, three RWE power plants, each with an output of 300 megawatts (MW), went back on the market from the stand-by. In addition, two further RWE blocks, each with an output of 600 MW, are not to be taken off the grid at the end of this year, but will continue to run until the end of March 2024; if necessary, they can remain in reserve for another year.
This could be an interesting business for RWE. The chairman of the board, Markus Krebber, assured that the priority is to have planning security. The coalition agreement states that the coal phase-out will come after 2038, but “ideally” as early as 2030. The agreements have no effect on the compensation payments of 2.6 billion euros agreed between the federal government and RWE two years ago.
Krebber said he was confident that the ongoing EU state aid review would be completed and that compensation would be paid out. According to RWE, the loss of income and additional costs, especially from the preservation of the Hambach Forest, are significantly higher than the amounts set at the time. The federal government does not want to touch the additional income from the extension of the service life of the two 600 MW blocks. “The income from electricity marketing remains with RWE,” says the key issues paper.