Visiting the Rhenish Lignite Site and watching consequences of restructuring and relocation policies

Photo: Jacqueline Hildebrandt

June 26, 2023.  

Today, a group of around 25 ZEF junior and senior researchers and visiting students from the DSSP Summer School 2023 visited the Rhenish lignite mining site near Jülich/Bergheim (read more about the region, its history and recent development plans here), roughly 100 kilometers from Bonn. The area has been at the center of Germany's coal-mining activities for centuries, but is now in transition and shifting to more sustainable energy solutions. What impact such restructuring measures, including relocating part of the local population, can have on a region and its livelihoods was something our Colombian students were particularly interested in. 

The group took a three-hour guided tour with an employee of Rhein-Erft Tourism, who led them around the lignite site. Starting point and finisch alike was Schloß Paffendorf in Bergheim. The ZEF-group had the opportunity to visit the lignite power plant Niederaußem – but, unfortunately, only from the outside. Afterwards, they had a look at the Hambach open pit from two different viewpoints.

The guide explained technical details and how the power plant and the mine where operated. But, he also informed about the so-called restructuring plans for the region. The restructuring, which was initiated by the German federal government, the EU and the state government of North Rhine-Westphalia, aims at making Germany independent of coal-based energy and shifting towards renewable energy sources. This process has been accompanied by many controversial social and ecological issues, e.g. the policy of relocating nearby villages and towns by the owner and operator of the lignite site, the regional energy company RWE (Rheinisch-Westfälisches Elektrizitswerk).

Furthermore, the tour guide outlined scenarios of what may happen to the whole area once mining operations will stop. RWE’s relocation policy and its consequences invoked a lively discussion with the group from ZEF, of whom many come from countries (e.g. Colombia) where issues such as state-induced restructuring and infrastructure projects lead to the relocation of local populations  and forced changes in livelihoods. So, after all, these are strongly contested issues in many parts of the world. The tour ended with a short visit to the village Manheim, which is almost completely demolished. Its population has been relocated, except for two houses that are still inhabited.


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