The small town of Lützerath in North Rhine-Westphalia is now in the spotlight of TV cameras. In the heyday of the village, 105 people and numerous cows lived here. Now the place is uninhabited and is still populated – by several thousand demonstrators.
“Burn capitalism, not coal,” reads the banners. The Cologne pop band AnnenMayKantereit (“Barefoot at the Piano”) gave a concert yesterday at the vigil in town. Luisa Neubauer is already there: “Here, a society shows that it understands: it’s about everything. “
Lützerath will disappear from the map because the most valuable thing the little town has to offer in the world is lignite, which is stored just below the basement. The Green Economics Minister Robert Habeck from Berlin and the Green counterpart from North Rhine-Westphalia, Mona Neubaur, have promised their voters that they will phase out coal quickly – but at the same time they have agreed with RWE that Lützerath will be cleared for coal mining. This deal also includes the extension of two RWE coal-fired power plants.
The village thus becomes a symbol for what the philosopher Peter Sloterdijk calls the “program reversal”. The environmental party, of all people, which had already promised the end of fossil fuels in many election campaigns, buys CO2-intensive raw materials from all over the world, builds terminals for their storage and ensures that in Lützerath the demolition vehicles come first, followed by the bucket-wheel excavators, which then to release coal.
Tip: Brown coal trouble – residents, opencast mine and occupation: What makes Lützerath explosive
This adds an important point to the list of impertinences for the Greens and their voters:
Imposition 1: Getting started with coal. Although the party is committed to phasing out coal by 2030, it is currently doing the opposite. In October 2022 alone, 3.12 million tons of hard coal were imported to Germany and in Lützerath the lignite open-cast mine will not be closed, as demanded during the times of the opposition, but expanded. RWE’s economic calculations have evidently convinced the Greens, who have barely made it into government.
The group mines around 25 million tons of lignite per year in the Garzweiler opencast mine, i.e. in the region of Lützerath. Estimated current monetary value on the world market: 4.25 billion euros.
The bottom line is that the CO2 balance of the Federal Republic has not fallen during the green-red-yellow government, but has risen. Both the consumption of hard coal and lignite increased by one percent in 2022 compared to the previous year. In the Federal Republic’s entire energy mix – which includes electricity consumption, the heating market and transport – the fossil fuels oil, gas and coal continue to play the dominant role, with a combined share of almost 80 percent.
Greenpeace’s judgment is strict but accurate: “In doing so, Germany will neither meet its sector targets nor adopt a policy compatible with the 1.5 degree limit.” Emissions in 2022 will stagnate at the previous year’s level at 761 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents.”
Imposition 2: Germany is becoming dependent on Arab and American fracking gas.
Germany has great potential for fracking gas, the commercial use of which the traffic light coalition has forbidden itself and others. The coalition partners agreed on the following wording: “Fracking must not pose any danger to people or the environment. Commercial fracking to extract shale gas therefore remains illegal in Germany.”
Since the need was great after the end of Russian gas purchases, the fracking gas is now being bought all over the world, which is brought to Germany in liquid form across the world’s oceans. Long-term supply contracts and the construction of expensive liquid gas terminals create facts that no successor government can ignore.
This means that the energy transition in the gas market has been significantly postponed. The overall CO2 balance of liquid gas is, also thanks to the transport organized with diesel ships and due to the methane release during fracking itself, if at all only slightly below that of lignite. That says a study on US fracking gas by the Potsdam Institute for Transformative Sustainability Research (IAAS).
Imposition 3: The expansion of renewables is only progressing at a crawl.
The coalition agreement states: “We are aligning our renewables target with a higher gross electricity demand of 680-750 TWh in 2030. 80 percent of this should come from renewable energies. We are accelerating the grid expansion accordingly.”
As long as no efficient storage media exist and long-distance transport fails due to a lack of building permits for new routes, the promised goal is utopian.
According to the Federal Network Agency, more than 12,000 kilometers of new lines are to be built to transport electricity from the coast to the industrial centers of the south. Of these, however, only around 2,100 kilometers have been completed so far. 9000 kilometers are in the approval process or before.
E.ON boss Leonhard Birnbaum recently summed it up with this calculation: “Today, an approval procedure for a 110 KV line takes ten years if things go well, 20 if things go badly, and then you start all over again . It is no longer manageable.”
Imposition 4: The heat transition fails.
The coalition agreement states: “By 2030, emissions from the building sector must fall to 67 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents.”
The sector should be climate-neutral by 2045.
But the majority of German buildings are unrenovated or only partially renovated. Outdated heating systems and poor insulation result in inefficient use of energy. Energy is wasted in Germany.
A study commissioned by the Association for Housing Construction showed that the cost of renovations in Germany would be up to 150 billion euros per year if the sector wanted to be climate-neutral by 2045. However, rising energy costs and inflation mean there is little scope for homeowners to invest in the foreseeable future, which would inevitably be passed on to tenants.
The town of Lützerath will live on, if only as a symbol of an energy policy mirage. The closer you get to the green energy transition, the more clearly you can see how illusory it is.
Gabor Steingart is one of the best-known journalists in the country. He publishes the newsletter The Pioneer Briefing. The podcast of the same name is Germany’s leading daily podcast for politics and business. Since May 2020, Steingart has been working with his editorial staff on the ship “The Pioneer One”. Before founding Media Pioneer, Steingart was, among other things, Chairman of the Management Board of the Handelsblatt Media Group. You can subscribe to his free newsletter here.