Germany still gets 40 percent of its electricity from coal-fired plants.
By 2030, the eastern German town of Poedelwitz will likely be razed to get at the rich veins of coal beneath its half-timbered houses. The reason: Chancellor Angela Merkel’s effort to steer Germany toward greener energy, which has unexpectedly meant booming demand for dirty coal.
While Merkel aims to wean the country from nuclear power and boost renewable energy, the shift has been slow—Germany’s 140-plus coal-fired plants last year supplied 40 percent of the country’s electricity—and Poedelwitz is flanked by open-pit lignite mines that feed a 2 gigawatt power plant a few miles away.
“This is unparalleled destruction of the environment,” says Jens Hausner, a farmer who has seen 17 of his 20 hectares consumed by digging equipment that looks like something out of a Mad Max movie. In a bit more than a decade, the hulking machines are expected to claw through the town’s 13th-century church and 40 or so remaining homes.
Fine-tuning the shift toward cleaner energy will be near the top of Merkel’s to-do list if she wins a fourth term as chancellor, as expected, in Sept. 24 elections. Germany began subsidizing wind and solar in 2000, but the pace picked up after 2011, when Merkel initiated her “Energy Shift” in reaction to the meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima plant.
Merkel aims to cut CO2 emissions by 40 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels, and Germany has spent some 650 billion euros ($780 billion) on subsidies for green power in recent decades.
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