Chasing Coal

The German lignite industry and the struggle for a just green transition

The Neurath lignite-fired power station seen from a farm in Grevenbroich, in Germany’s North Rhine-Westphalia state. The power station is owned by the energy company RWE AG, and was ranked the second biggest emitter of carbon dioxide in the European Union in 2019, by the EU’s Transport and Environment Group. Lignite is delivered here by rail from open-pit mines in the Rhenish lignite district, and in particular from the Garzweiler and Hambach mines, also owned by RWE AG.
Photographs and text by Rocco Rorandelli
01 May, 2022

On a rainy November day in 2021 in the Ruhr Valley, Germany’s mining heartland, I sat with Helmut Kehrmann in his family home, in the village of Alt-Keyenberg. The room was empty, with the exception of a chair and a few boxes lying in a corner. Marks left by furniture and fixtures were still visible on the dusty wooden floor. This was the last time Helmut visited his house.  

Residents of Alt-Keyenberg are under eviction orders. The nearby Garzweiler open-pit mine, producing brown coal, or lignite, is expanding. RWE AG, the mine’s owner and Germany’s largest energy company, has purchased most of the village. Demolitions will begin once the acquisition is complete, razing the village by 2024 to make space for the lignite mine.  

Norbert Winzenis is one of the few remaining residents of the village of Alt-Keyenberg, slated for demolition by 2024. He lives with his family on a farm dating to 1863, and is part of a group of residents trying to resist eviction.