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A long-limbed, coal-eating grasshopper 

Lignite is the dirtiest of all power sources. Ny Tid recently visited the shrinking Jänschwalde mine in Germany. Visits to the mining landscape were previously strictly forbidden to the public.

This article is machine translated by Google from Norwegian

Lignite coal is the dirtiest of all power sources. The experts draw a clear picture: Only 35 percent of the energy it produces is converted into electricity, and CO2 emissions are more than twice as large as fossil gas. Lignite coal is just as cheap and competitive because the manufacturers (mis) use our atmosphere as a free deposit for carbon dioxide. European emissions trading, with its bottom prices per ton of CO2, has so far changed little.

Germany has spent the last 20 years pioneering renewable energy development: the share has risen from 7 percent in 2000 to 36 percent in 2017. Nevertheless, CO2 emissions have not decreased to a similar degree, as the country annually exports more and more lignite to its neighboring countries. The consumers there buy the cheap electricity, while the CO2 emissions appear in the domestic climate accounts. Germany will thus only retain its good reputation as Energiewende-countries if it takes political decisions to step the coal behind in time. If this does not happen, the warning sounds, the country will fail all its climate targets.

In Brandenburg

I lie on my back in the tent listening to the birds' morning trills. Golden rays play over the canvas, and I follow the tripping shadow of a rocker. My teammates are already on their feet. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee is tempting to begin the day – which otherwise does not tempt you with a particularly idyllic program. We are going on a journey in a cool black world – a world that was dubbed "the flame of socialism" in the GDR.

The excavator is 650 meters long, 72 meters high and weighs 30 tons.

Even for a long time I associated this place exclusively with music: Johann Sebastian Bachs Brandenburg Concerts. Now we are here, in Brandenburg, near the border with Poland. Here you go
mining company Lausitz Energie Bergbau AG (LEAG) two of its four Tagebau – mining with open-pit mining. "Black gold" they are no longer called, the 900 million tons of lignite still lying here, enough to generate power for more than six million households and provide 8000 people work. For coal, besides a losing investment industry, there is also a gigantic environmental waste on the way out of time. It just asks how fast. Germany has declared the world its proud climate goals, and much is at stake.

Dying industry

Today we have arranged a meeting with Bodo. Once he was a miner; now Bodo is a tourist guide in Tagebau Jänschwalde, where the F60 excavator, also called the "lying Eiffel Tower", is in use. The monster is 650 meters long, 72 meters high and weighs 30 tons. 000 hours a day, it digs up soil masses on one side and spits them out on the other.

Photo: Ranveig Eckhoff

Several villages have had to give way to the kid's teeth over time, and others are on a waiting list. At a distance, from the other side of a green field, F60 resembles one
long-limbed, futuristic grasshopper. Here, in the company of Bodo with a helmet on his head, reality takes over. We stand on the edge of a gray-black, 60 meter deep giant crater. As far as the eye can see: an all-encompassing lunar landscape. A sunny yellow off-road bus, with wheels the size of a tractor, takes us in and out of the matter. Every time we stop and trudge down there, a little more of heaven disappears; every time the world gets a little darker, a little darker.

For Bodo, this was the very thing The progress. Entire societies arose in the wake of the extraction of black gold. In the GDR era, the lignite industry employed 160 people – today the number is 000. Bodo pulls out a nicely wrapped, earth-colored hard lump and holds it up in the air. This piece of coal, he says, he showed to a school class recently, and a girl asked, "What is it used for?" No further comment from Bodo, just an eloquent, crooked smile.

Split on several levels

Bodo is fully aware that the coal industry is phasing out. We are talking about the people who, in the name of progress, have had to leave their homes. They had to sit on the suitcase and endure the uncertainty, not knowing where to plan to bury Grandma. They had to live in a divided community, divided into supporters and opponents of the coal lobby. Some people get stuck in their properties, others say: 'We just rent the house. We are happy to take the replacement money and rent somewhere else. ”

The Jänschwalde power plant is Germany's third largest, and here daily 82 000 tonnes of coal can be converted into electricity.

"How about refusing to move, is that it?" I want to know. Bodo takes a deep breath: "In principle, yes. But the rule now applies as before: The individual should align himself with the best interests of the community. ”I spare him my thoughts. Today, the definition of "community good" is an apple of contention and a gigantic local as well as global problem. Either we sit on oil wells north of the Arctic Circle or run one open-cast mining In Lausitz, the situation is the same: If the Paris climate agreement is to end successfully, fossil fuel must remain in the earth.

"Really remote," some say. From the stronghold of the coal industry in Brandenburg and Saxony, it is blatantly stated: “Unfortunately, the (Bundes-) government has on several occasions made successful attempts to regulate the coal-based power business's business. The government's anti-coal policy must be enforced at the expense of lignite. ”

waste Tourism

Big business has long seen the writing on the wall. Lignite mining requires high and long-term investments, as it only pays off on a large scale. For this reason, the Swedish part-owner of the plants in Lausitz, Vattenfall, announced that they withdrew completely from all fossil energy quakes and wanted to focus on wind and solar instead. Since then, the electricity market has also contributed to a lack of investment. Renewable energy is becoming cheaper and growing rapidly, both nationally and internationally. Thus, the LEAG management had to complain so much, but "due to the current financial situation they had to adapt to the new circumstances". Specifically, this means that LEAG scrapes parts of its excavation plans and leaves 400 millions of tons of coal in the ground. Further decisions are postponed.

Bodo itself is a walking proof of innovation and restructuring. Previously, visits to the mining landscape were strictly forbidden to the public; now tourism and restructuring of an entire region are on the program. Old industrial buildings turn into museums, lookout towers and view points constructed, artificial lakes of many square kilometers have been added, and furry, abandoned waste piles large as mountains have become the backdrop of water sports of all kinds. Thick brochures tell of all the happy people who spend their holidays here. Admittedly, a lot is going on in the futurum: "In a few years, work on (…) will be finished."; "The bike paths will soon reach almost all the water." And environmentalists still have a lot to complain about. The water level in the sea drops by one and a half meters per year – does this have nothing to do with the industry's extraction of groundwater?

Photo: Ranveig Eckhoff

From a local Greenpeace team in Cottbus it says: “300 tonnes of CO2 are still being released into the atmosphere here. Then we have the mercury load, the pollution of the river Spree, which affects the drinking water in Berlin. Jobs in tourism and agriculture in Spreewald are lost. Even when the law is complied with, coal-fired power plants release harmful dust particles, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and heavy metals. Actually, there is no good reason to continue operating a single Tagebau.»

From swamp to daybreak

This looks at LEAG differently. There you are also not happy that we take pictures of F60 and the operation in Jänschwalde without asking for written permission in advance: For who knows – maybe we belong to the ranks of the noisy environmental activists? Yes, she can. But now we are here to see and learn – from what Bodo has to say about the treasures underground in this area. 33 percent of German lignite is produced in Lausitz. The Jänschwalde power plant is Germany's third largest, and here daily 82 000 tonnes of coal can be converted into electricity.

The lignite was created over millions of years by ancient swamp forests found in the areas around Cologne, Leipzig, Harz and Lausitz. Plant residues from the forests were covered with constantly new layers of sediments, thus hindering the decay process. Moss and peat were slowly transformed into the lignite, which today is layered at 100 to 150 meters deep. As soon Förderbrücken - giant excavators – have shoveled the coal out of the ground, it is transported on rails to the nearest power plant. When I watch these concrete blocks, wherever they are, it strikes me how white and pure the steam they shoot out looks. So what really happens when the coal arrives at the power plant? Quick surveys provide answers: Huge mills grind coal to dust. The coal dust lands in a boiler and is heated to 1300 degrees Celsius. The hot flue gases heat water in a pipe system and allow it to evaporate. The water vapor starts a turbine. Much like a bicycle dynamo, a generator finally converts energy into electricity. Then the harmful substance has become invisible, albeit not removed.

In the GDR era, the lignite industry employed 160 people – today the number is 000.

F60 at sunset is a very unique experience. It shines in lavender pink over a never-resting metal skeleton. That is, on a regular basis, the giant must calm down for maintenance reasons. But it never lasts long. Time is money – and here, a lot of money. When Bodo finishes his story, I have a strong sense of restrained nostalgia. I can't do it: In the head, Snow White's Seven Dwarves sing his cheerful song: "Hey, hey, let's go to work!" For Bodo and his workmates, the motto was: Glückauf! A happiness-to-ritual that should bring good finds to the rock – and the workman safely back.

We now bring the yellow bus back safely back in the day. We get a souvenir on the purchase: a small snapshot with the inscription carbon. I open it and drink the charcoal black liquid. It tastes of licorice. Glückauf!

This is the first of several eco-themed travel letters from Eckhoff.
(Eckhoff never got a response from the LEAG management if the images from the area could be used.)

avatar photos
Ranveig Eckhoff
Eckhoff is a regular reviewer for Ny Tid.

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