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In Germany, the swan song of coal

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Several thousand environmental demonstrators are expected this Saturday, April 23 in the small village of Lützerath, in North Rhine-Westphalia. Located between Aix la Chapelle and Cologne, this town could be engulfed in the fall by the expansion of the nearby open-pit lignite mine, called Garzweiler II and managed by the energy company RWE. The way to the disappearance of Lützerath was opened at the end of March by a court in Aix la Chapelle which confirmed the expulsion of the last inhabitant. Since then, this farmer has decided to sell his farmland to RWE, after ten years of legal battle.

A symbolic place

For environmental activists, dozens of whom have been camping for months on the spot and where Swedish activist Greta Thunberg went last year, the case of Lützerath is above all symbolic. “Legally, the case is folded”recognizes Dirk Jansen, spokesman for the regional section of the association for the protection of nature BUND.

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“The question is not to save Lützerath but to define the contours of a climate policy, in our region, which makes it possible to achieve the objectives of the Paris agreement, namely to limit the rise in temperatures to 1.5 degree. To achieve this, numerous studies show that the production capacity of the Garzweiler II mine must be reduced. We call on the future regional government which will come out of the polls on May 15 to modify its energy policy in this direction.»summarizes Dirk Jansen.

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Coal exit maintained for 2030

Three weeks before these regional elections, the climate issue has therefore not lost its relevance, including in the context of the war in Ukraine. On the contrary. While seeking in an accelerated manner to reduce its dependence on Russian hydrocarbons, Germany maintains its objectives for the production of renewable energies. Same thing with maintained coal output “ideally” for 2030.

The war in Ukraine, however, forced the new government of Olaf Scholz to decide on the temporary extension of five coal-fired power stations which were supposed to be shut down this year. The goal is not necessarily to run them at full speed but to be able to count on them, if necessary, to compensate for the use of Russian gas in the production of electricity. Even if it means polluting more than expected, temporarily.

Accelerate in green energies

The energy company RWE, which operates some of these plants, however, sees no change in Berlin’s course on the exit from coal. “If our coal-fired power plants will be needed for a longer period than expected, it is not a step backwards but at most a step aside for a limited time”recognizes the direction that says “stick to the agreed coal exit plan”.

RWE is not changing course for the future either. In November, the energy company presented a new strategy called “Growing green”, which provides for 50 billion investments by 2030 in wind, solar and green hydrogen. “ With the war in Ukraine, the transition to the world of green energy is likely to accelerate even further. It’s not new. What is is the speed required for this change “says the group.

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For RWE to go even faster, that is precisely what the Enkraft Capital fund wants. This activist shareholder, holder of 0.03% of the group’s shares, filed a motion on the agenda of the general meeting of April 28 so that RWE separates from its coal section. This proposal is however rejected by the management of the group which knows that this activity is still lucrative. In 2021, the latter recorded a 25% increase in production and net profit.

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