But brown coal mining itself, and the use of domestic raw materials overall, was not in question, according to the court, deferring to government approval. “Brown coal mining secures a sufficiently legal and sustainable public benefit,” they said in this week’s ruling; judicial opposition could have spelled early closure for the mine and a key structural change for Germany’s power generation mix.
RWE operates thousands of megawatts in brown coal-to-power capacity at its core North-Rhine Westphalia region and requires local supplies to fuel them, producing up to 40 million tons annually. Germany’s brown coal, also mined by Vattenfall in the east, provides 25% of national power supply. Brown coal mining, however, has been condemned by residents to be relocated in future expansion, along with environmentalists.
In October, RWE denied reports that it considered early closure of the project, though officials are planning restructuring following an unprofitable wholesale market for power. Garzweiler feeds raw material to RWE plants at Neurath, among others, since opening in 2012; they are among the world’s biggest, most modern brown coal-to-power blocks with a joint capacity of 2,100 megawatts.