Heuersdorf, German Energy Policy and Climate Change

In eastern Germany, a new generation of 800 Megawatt power stations has been erected to employ domestic lignite, a low-quality but abundant fuel. About 65 million tons of this "brown coal" are being extracted annually from open cast (“strip”) mines, necessitating the devastation of natural landscapes and human settlements.

According to present mining plans, the medieval village of Heuersdorf near Leipzig is to be excavated to provide one-tenth of the lignite required by the Lippendorf power station, which is capable of generating 13 billion kilowatt hours of electricity a year. Plans were made in the early 1990's to resettle the 347 residents with only partial indemnification provided by the Mibrag mining company for the loss of their traditional homesteads. To date (2002), about one-half of the population has moved from Heuersdorf, while most of the remaining residents are determined to resist resettlement.

The Mibrag (Mitteldeutsche Braunkohlengesellschaft mbH, Wiesenstraße 20, 06727 Theißen, Germany) is a consortium owned equally by two American companies:

Washington Group International, Inc., P. O. Box 73, Boise, Idaho 83729, USA

NRG Energy, Inc., 1221 Nicollet Mall, Suite 700, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55403, USA

(The individual holding companies operate jointly through MIBRAG B.V., which holds 100 percent of the Mibrag mbH.)

The villagers are willing to accept personal sacrifice in the interest of regional development, but only if the economic need for additional power generation can be demonstrated. The inability of state government officials to provide the appropriate confirmation makes the lignite power station appear unjustified in light of the deregulated European power market. Heuersdorf's right of communal self-determination was reaffirmed for this reason in a decision of the Constitutional Court of Saxony on July 14, 2000.

Lignite power likewise remains controversial owing to the lost options for landscape development and employment, and because of extremely high emissions of greenhouse gases. Burning one ton of lignite releases over one ton of carbon dioxide (CO2), a gas believed to be responsible for global warming. The power plant at Lippendorf emits about 12 million tons of CO2 a year, making it more difficult for international commitments on greenhouse gas reductions to be fulfilled.

According to findings of the State Agency for Environment and Geology, global climate change will be raising average temperatures in Saxony by 2.7 degrees centigrade by the year 2050. This warming trend will be accompanied by considerable precipitation decline that will be most pronounced in western Saxony, where the lignite mines are likewise located. Up to 70 million cubic meters of groundwater are pumped away each year before strip mining commences. The combined ecological effects of precipitation decline and ground water loss have yet to be analyzed.

The village of Heuersdorf believes that by tapping Germany's enormous energy conservation potential (estimated to lie as high as 40 percent), the number of power stations required for reliable service could be significantly reduced. Its own strategy for doing so is called the "Virtual Power Station". In addition, the use of renewable energies could be expanded to reduce fossil fuel requirements and decrease the emission of greenhouse gases. By such means, irreplaceable natural resources and historic settlements could be saved from destruction, while providing jobs for many of Germany's four million unemployed. Under this circumstance, the financial burdens and communal disruptions of resettlement have been decisively rejected by the villagers of Heuersdorf.

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