RWE, one of Germany’s “big four” utilities, announced last Friday that it has cancelled plans for the BoAplus lignite coal-fired power station at the company’s site in Niederaussem, near Cologne, Germany, and promised to cease investing in new coal generation capacity.
“We are aware of our responsibility and continue to drive the energy transition with resolve,” explained Rolf Martin Schmitz, CEO of RWE AG. “New coal-fired power stations no longer have a place in our future-oriented strategy. Following the completion of the transaction with E.ON, RWE will be one of the world’s leading renewable energy players.”
Thus, plans for the Niederaussem BoAplus lignite coal-fired power station — which was originally planned all the way back in 2012 and intended to be equipped with “cutting-edge and extremely efficient technology” — will be scrapped as the company instead focuses all its future activity on “electricity generation from renewable energy sources.”
However, the company’s big announcement isn’t necessarily all its cracked up to be. RWE insisted in its press release that “existing coal-fired power stations will be needed to provide backup capacity” in the future, “given the fact that renewables currently contribute about 40% to the German electricity mix.” Even though RWE admits that coal’s “share in the electricity mix will decline gradually,” that the company insists it must remain for the time being is discouraging.
Further, while RWE has promised to invest in electricity generation from renewable energy sources, later on in its press release it explains that the company will “invest in renewable energies, storage technologies, and low-carbon technologies such as gas-fired power stations if market conditions allow for it.”
RWE is hedging its bets, making a splashy announcement that will earn it a seat at the cool kids’ table moving forward, while still allowing it to hold on to business-as-usual practices until it is no longer financially profitable. What is needed, however, is for companies to fully commit to renewable energy and energy storage technologies now – rather than at some unknown point down the path – so as to better support the development of these technologies so that they can become more financially viable and profitable sooner, rather than later.
This point was made by the German chapter of Friends of the Earth, Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland, which highlighted their belief that “RWE needs to do more.” According to BUND energy expert Tina Löffelsend, the cancellation of the BoAplus project was bound for failure in either case. It has been clear for years that a new coal-fired power plant can neither be justified from a climate perspective nor an economic one. The abandonment was long overdue and is in itself not yet a certificate for taking climate responsibility. If RWE is serious about its climate responsibility, it would need to close its old power stations in Neurath and Niederaussem as of 2020. Further, Löffelsend pointed to the German Kohlekommission’s (coal commission) findings that 3 GW of lignite capacity could be decommissioned, and that Germany should aim for a complete exit from coal by 2038.