SOMETIME NEXT MONTH, underground miners will dig Germany’s last ton of black coal, load it onto a conveyor belt, and whisk it a mile to the surface of the Ibbenbüren mining facility. From there, the high-energy anthracite will be tossed into a high-combustion chamber in an adjacent power plant, where it will be converted into electricity to light up this northwest corner of Germany’s North Rhine-Westphalia state.
It’s been a good run at the Ibbenbüren mine. Some of the original elevators are a century old, and some machinery dates from its heyday in the 1960s, when more than 10,000 workers punched the clock here. But now, after 500 years of mining in this coal-producing region, the last shift is almost over.
“It’s like organizing your own funeral,” says Hubert Hüls, the 58-year-old manager of surface operations at the mine owned by the German firm RAG. Hüls’ father and grandfather mined coal here; he started as a mechanic in 1986 and will remain to supervise clean-up operations, albeit with a small maintenance crew of 200 workers.
German taxpayers have been subsidizing generations of coal miners like the Hüls family with a one-penny “kohlpfennig” fee on electricity use, but the European Union pressured them to stop back in 2007 because it was unfair to other coal-producing nations. As a result, RAG’s mining operation here can’t afford to stay open.
It would seem like a major step toward Prime Minister Angela Merkel’s goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent of 1990 totals by 2020. But German utilities just can’t seem to quit burning coal. Some power plants are switching to cheaper imported black coal from the United States, Russia, or Colombia. And at the same time, Germany is also digging more lignite, or brown coal.
For the rest of this article: https://www.wired.com/story/if-germany-cant-quit-coal-can-anyone-else/