'A Fatal Development' Energy Expert Ridicules German Court Ruling

Two weeks ago a German court ruled in favor of a farmer who had challenged German energy giant E.on's plans to build Europe's biggest coal-fired power plant in Datteln, near Dortmund. SPIEGEL spoke to Stephan Kohler, head of the German Energy Agency, about the court decision to halt construction.
The construction site of the coal-fired power plant in Datteln, North Rhine-Westphalia.

The construction site of the coal-fired power plant in Datteln, North Rhine-Westphalia.

Foto: A9999 DB Gisela Franke/ dpa

The world's largest investor-owned energy utility company, E.on, suffered a heavy blow at the beginning of the month after a German farmer managed to persuade a court to topple its plans to build a coal-fired power plant.

The decision by the Higher Administrative Court for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia was particularly welcomed by citizens of the town of Datteln -- where the 1,050 megawatt power station was due to be erected -- but also by politicians and scientists who say carbon dioxide-emitting plants like these contribute to global warming.

The court said that the plans did not take into account sustainable energy mandates from North Rhine-Westphalia's state parliament. SPIEGEL spoke to Stephan Kohler, head of the Berlin-based German Energy Agency (DENA) think tank, about the decision.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Kohler, environmentalists are celebrating the decision by the court in Münster as a victory for climate protection. Are they right?

Kohler: Certainly not. Those who object to new coal-fired power plant with a 45 percent efficiency factor are acting in favor of less-efficient, older plants running for longer. At the end of the day, this leads to higher CO2 emissions.

SPIEGEL: The court, however, has ruled that the levels of CO2 the new plant would emit do not comply with regulations set down by the state development agencies. Isn't it logical, then, to stop the project?

Kohler: It seems that the judges -- in the same way as many others -- have a very isolated perspective on the project. Aside from the development of sustainable energy sources, we also need power plants to guarantee a constant supply of electricity. Where should 70 percent of our electricity come from if, by 2020 we have only managed to obtain 30 percent from sustainable energy resources? Bearing in mind that we are also aiming to switch off nuclear power plants and get rid of old inefficient coal-fired plants, that's one question I would like to have the judges answer.

SPIEGEL: So who is to blame for the stopping the project?

Kohler: We can't formally blame the plaintiff, because he was simply taking advantage of his rights, and E.on can't be blamed either. I think the planning board made the mistake because they didn't evaluate the information properly or completely before making their decision.

SPIEGEL: E.on has already invested €600 million ($880 million) in the project and may also have to foot the bill for demolishing what has already been built ...

Kohler: ... this verdict is inappropriate. Datteln is the biggest construction site for the German energy industry. It's also a matter of hundreds of jobs. In Germany, we desperately need to modernize the energy infrastructure . A verdict like this may act as a deterrent for potential investors.

SPIEGEL: Even "green" investments are often met with resistance.

Kohler: In Germany there is resistance against everything -- against power lines, ethanol plants, wind farms and modern coal-fired power plants. Everybody wants an efficient, environmentally friendly, decentralized energy supply. But nobody wants it in their backyard. That's a fatal development.

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