Germany’s energy giant RWE is considering ceasing operations in the Garzweil open-cast brown coal mine as coal-fired power plants become less profitable.
According to the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung, RWE plans to shut down the mine when all the lignite, or brown coal, will have been mined from areas already cleared of towns and villages, which is expected to happen by 2017 or 2018.
The Garzweil coal mine, near Cologne in the federal state North Rhine-Westphalia, is the biggest in Europe. Its profits have been decreasing steadily in the past few years as Germany has turned towards green-energy sources, investing heavily in solar and wind power.
Suddeutsche Zeitung stated an RWE internal report as a source of the information. Contrary to original plans, the company won’t be expanding the mine and demolishing further settlements, despite known existing supplies in the region.
Previously, it was expected the Garzweiler mine would stay open until 2045. Its foreseen expansion was supposed to require resettling a further 7,000 inhabitants living in the area of 48 square kilometres, from where a further 1.3 billion tonnes of lignite could be extracted.
The lawfulness of expropriations related to the expansion of Germany’s mines has been examined by the country’s federal court of justice since June this year. However, shifts in energy use seem to make this dispute no longer relevant.
Nevertheless, RWE is not considering stopping the coal use completely. The neighbouring mine near Hambach will continue its operation.
Brown coal extraction forms an important part of the economy of North Rhine-Westphalia, employing some 35,000 people in the region. The closure of the region’s mines would therefore bring about large-scale job loss and related social problems.