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German State Approves Huge Expansion Of Brown Coal Mining

Madelaine Chambers, Reuters

The eastern German state of Brandenburg approved plans on Tuesday to allow utility Vattenfall to mine a further 200 million tonnes of brown coal from 2026, a move critics say will cause pollution and also force 800 people from their homes.

Photo of the Vatenfall mine near Jaenschwalde, Germany.

Giant machines dig for brown coal, or lignite, at Vattenfall’s mining operation near Jänschwalde, Germany, in the Lausitz region. Its planned expansion could force relocation of towns. Foto Patrick Pleul, DPA

The decision by Brandenburg’s cabinet, made up of centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) and the more radical Left party, highlights the complexities of Germany’s energy policy, which aims to promote renewable energy.

While Germany has seen a rapid expansion in green energy, which accounts for about 25 percent of power, Europe’s industrial powerhouse still needs to tap conventional sources for a secure supply, especially due to its nuclear phase-out. Coal is also cheaper than renewable energy.

“In essence, this is about a safe, sustainable and an affordable as possible supply of energy,” said the office of Brandenburg state premier Dietmar Woidke after the decision.

Brown coal – also known as lignite – has a high moisture content and can be susceptible to spontaneous combustion, making it difficult to store and transport. Therefore, it is often burnt in power stations near to mines. It also emits more carbon dioxide when burnt compared with other types of coal, making it more harmful to the environment.

Opponents of the fuel, which accounts for about a quarter of German power, have campaigned hard for its use to be halted because of the high levels of carbon dioxide emissions and because they say about 800 local residents will be forced to relocate to make way for the new open-cast mining.

But its advocates say brown coal allows the use of domestic raw materials for a reliable source of electricity, especially in industrial parts of Germany, and reduces the need for energy imports.

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