Lignite (Brown Coal) in Germany
Friends of the Earth / Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland (BUND)
October 2001

Lignite produces the greatest CO2 emissions of any fuel. CO2 emissions have increased in Germany largely because of intensified lignite use in electrical power stations. In contrast to natural gas, lignite – as is the case with nuclear power – is presently not taxed.
(1 kWh electricity from lignite = 1 kg CO2; 1 kWh electricity from natural gas = 0.47 kg CO2)

An EU guideline on energy taxation (50% energy / 50% CO2 emission) and CO2 emissions trading will be introduced in the foreseeable future. At least eight EU countries (including Germany) intend to implement an energy tax and have given Spain a December deadline for its deliberations on the matter. Such a tax would impose a financial burden on lignite power generation and negatively affect its economical use. These perspectives, however, have received no consideration in socio-economic decisions made in the lignite mining regions. EU market liberalisation has provided Germany with additional generating capacities and thus with added capabilities for achieving sustainable development more effectively in conformance with requirements on environmental protection and human existence.

For the first time in history, the community of Heuersdorf, a village threatened by the devastation of lignite mining, successfully won a court case against the dominance of German mining law. The Supreme Court of Saxony declared on July 14, 2000, that in view the liberalised European electricity market the destruction of a village for the purpose of extracting brown coal was no longer justified to achieve energy security. The state government of Saxony initially rejected this opinion. However, it has now commissioned new studies for investigating the legal basis of compulsory resettlement of a community. Yet since the villages threatened by devastation have not been consulted in selecting the investigators, their protection and integrity are now being demanded at an EU level.

The standard arguments of lignite adherents against bypassing villages in mining are the resulting economic detriments and negative effects on employment. The income from electricity sales, however, has fallen drastically since 1998 because of energy competition, while employment has declined throughout the industry due to rationalisation measures. As a result, the purported added costs of saving villages from devastation have been greatly exceeded by the financial losses inherent to energy market transformation.

Investigations prescribed by European environmental impact regulations are not conducted in eastern Germany. The Green League (GRÜNE LIGA) has therefore taken this case to the Administrative Court of Brandenburg and to the Federal Administrative Court.

German lignite policy became a foreign issue on October 5, 2001. Five of the seven parties represented in Swedish Parliament declared in a motion that devastation of the village of Horno was not compatible with the self-proclaimed ethical principles of the Swedish state corporation Vattenfall. The corporation holds a majority interest in HEW (Hamburger Elektrizitätswerke), which has taken over the eastern German power and transmission company VEAG and the lignite mining operation LAUBAG (in Lusatia, near the Polish border).

In buying VEAG and LAUBAG, HEW promised the federal government that it would generate and market 50 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity per year from lignite. 50 million tonnes of CO2 will thus be emitted annually, twice the reduction amount to be achieved by the German law on combined heat and power (CHP) generation (for modernisation of existing CHP plants and modest increases of small CHP installations).

HEW has purchased VEAG and LAUBAG for about 1.5 billion Euro, although a total of some 8.7 billion Euro had been invested in both operations. In 1994, the purchase price was the equivalent of approximately 4.1 billion Euro, of which cash payment of only 1 billion Euro was made. More than 2 billion Euro were culled from the VEAG’s capital reserves, which had been collected from eastern German power customers. An amount of 1 billion Euro is yet to be paid. HEW is now attempting to receive a discount of 0.5 billion Euro from the federal government.

previous page top