Energy Policy

Taking the Coal Out of Coalition

Germany's big dirty secret. Source: DPA

A former coal pit outside Cottbus, a gritty industrial town on the Polish border, will soon be flooded to create a lakeside haven for anglers and sailors. That’s a world away from an open-face mine that looks more like a post-industrial moonscape.

Germany as a whole is in the midst of transforming its landscape thanks to its so-called Energiewende, or energy transformation. The country is winding down coal mining as part of a vaunted (and decidedly speedy) policy turnaround, beginning soon after the nuclear power-plant disaster at Fukushima, Japan in 2011.

But although the German countryside is dotted by windmills and solar panels, many coal mines like the one in Cottbus remain in operation. It’s one of four open-face mines owned by energy producer LEAG, which also runs four lignite-fired power plants. Employing 8,000 people, LEAG used to be Vattenfall’s brown coal subsidiary but has been under Czech ownership since 2017. It has enough brown coal at its disposal to keep firing power plants for the next 25 to 30 years, and will operate the lignite-fired plants through 2047.

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