Amid an energy crisis, Germany turns to the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel

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The chimney of the Evonik coal plant in Marl, Germany, on Sept. 13. This coal-fired energy plant helps energy a chemical park run by Evonik. The park employs greater than 10,000 individuals and the plant, which was scheduled to shut down this 12 months, might be open for at the least one other 12 months to change pure gasoline that has been lower by Russia.

Rob Schmitz/NPR


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Rob Schmitz/NPR


The chimney of the Evonik coal plant in Marl, Germany, on Sept. 13. This coal-fired energy plant helps energy a chemical park run by Evonik. The park employs greater than 10,000 individuals and the plant, which was scheduled to shut down this 12 months, might be open for at the least one other 12 months to change pure gasoline that has been lower by Russia.

Rob Schmitz/NPR

DORTMUND, Germany — Power Plant Manager Bernard Vendt stands on a platform jutting out from a smokestack, 20 tales above his firm’s chemical park. Past the park’s menagerie of twisting pipes, scaffolding and chimneys under him is a waterway that connects these factories to their energy supply.

“Over there, that is our harbor,” Vendt says, pointing with one hand whereas the different retains his laborious hat regular in the gusting wind. “You see the yellow crane transferring there? That’s the place the coal has landed by ship.”

The coal’s vacation spot lies beneath Vendt in a large furnace whose warmth will spin generators and generate sufficient energy to hold this chemical park operating by way of the winter, sustaining greater than 10,000 jobs.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. This coal-fired energy plant is one among a number of nationwide that have been scheduled to be shut down by the finish of the 12 months, to keep Germany’s dedication to phasing out coal by the finish of this decade. But with Russia slicing pure gasoline deliveries to Europe, and with no fast choices to change that energy, Germany is warily turning to its most dependable — and environmentally polluting — fossil fuel. At least 20 coal-fired energy vegetation nationwide are being resurrected or prolonged previous their time limits to guarantee Germany has sufficient energy to get by way of the winter.

A determined try to hold the enterprise going — and the lights on

For Evonik, the firm that runs Vendt’s energy plant, burning coal will imply the firm’s enterprise stays intact. But Heiko Mennerich, the firm’s head of energy, says it is expensive.

Heiko Mennerich, head of energy for German chemical firm Evonik, at the coal-fired energy plant at the firm’s chemical park in Marl, Germany, on Sept. 13. The plant was scheduled to shut down for good this fall, however due to the German energy disaster, it is one among a number of coal vegetation nationwide that may proceed to burn coal to get the nation by way of the winter.

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Rob Schmitz/NPR


Heiko Mennerich, head of energy for German chemical firm Evonik, at the coal-fired energy plant at the firm’s chemical park in Marl, Germany, on Sept. 13. The plant was scheduled to shut down for good this fall, however due to the German energy disaster, it is one among a number of coal vegetation nationwide that may proceed to burn coal to get the nation by way of the winter.

Rob Schmitz/NPR

“It’s quite a lot of effort Evonik is spending to safe the energy provide of this website and likewise for Germany,” Mennerich says. “But having no energy, having no electrical energy, having no steam in the winter, is way more severe than this query.”

He says staying aggressive globally will stay troublesome for Evonik given the price of coal in Germany, which rose from $64 per metric ton at the starting of 2021 to almost $400 this summer time.

“If you evaluate the energy value stage in Europe with the energy value stage in the U.S., we’re struggling underneath the competitors,” he says. “So I concern what occurs to the European business if now we have this excessive energy value stage for an extended time frame.”

Germany’s central bank recently predicted a transparent, broad-based decline in the nation’s financial output primarily due to the energy disaster.

Not all doom and gloom

In one other a part of Germany’s industrial heartland, one firm expects to thrive.

At a coal-fired energy plant close to Dortmund run by the utilities firm Steag, generators are spinning at full pace, producing sufficient energy to energy 1.3 million houses.

Steag was getting ready to shut down 5 of its six coal vegetation this 12 months, together with this one, however the authorities has renewed their licenses for the subsequent two years whereas placing a cap on Steag’s and different utilities’ earnings. Still, this setup means Steag will generate energy for 3% of Germany’s households.

A Steag coal energy plant in Herne, Germany, on Aug. 25. The Essen-based energy firm Steag needed to convert the outdated coal-fired energy plant Herne 4 right into a gas-fired energy plant at the starting of the 12 months. In March, Steag determined to postpone the conversion and to proceed firing the outdated energy plant with coal.

Ina Fassbender/AFP through Getty Images


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Ina Fassbender/AFP through Getty Images


A Steag coal energy plant in Herne, Germany, on Aug. 25. The Essen-based energy firm Steag needed to convert the outdated coal-fired energy plant Herne 4 right into a gas-fired energy plant at the starting of the 12 months. In March, Steag determined to postpone the conversion and to proceed firing the outdated energy plant with coal.

Ina Fassbender/AFP through Getty Images

“Economically, it is not a foul scenario,” says Steag spokesman Daniel Mühlenfeld. “On the one hand, the authorities will limit our earnings for energy, however on the different hand, wanting again two years to 2020 once we have been in a scenario to arrange a tough coal phaseout, we had a really demanding scenario.”

Even environmental teams agree this is perhaps greatest short-term answer

Steag’s earnings from burning extra coal will go into developing extra wind generators and photo voltaic panels, however environmentalists are fearful the German authorities is not doing sufficient to be certain that.

Still, even the nation’s staunchest environmentalists admit that coal is the quickest and most cost-effective reply to Germany’s energy disaster.

“We can perceive the authorities restarting coal-fired energy vegetation in Germany,” says Greenpeace Germany’s Karsten Smid, “however on one precondition: Coal is destroying the local weather. So in the finish, we don’t settle for any further CO2 emissions with out a dedication to financial savings.”

Smid says the authorities will want to be certain that each ton of CO2 emitted from burning coal might be offset by decreasing emissions elsewhere in the economic system.

The downside, says Smid, is that the German authorities hasn’t promised that. Instead, it is given a inexperienced gentle to operators to burn extra coal in order that Germany — and its economic system — would not freeze this winter.

Esme Nicholson contributed to this report.



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