Lessons from Germany’s Transition from Coal to Renewables

❝ Seventy-seven-year-old Heinz Spahn—whose blue eyes are both twinkling and stern — vividly recalls his younger days. The Zollverein coal mine, where he worked in the area of Essen, Germany, was so clogged with coal dust, he remembers, that people would stir up a black cloud whenever they moved. “It was no pony farm,” he says — using the sardonic German phrase to describe the harsh conditions: The roar of machines was at a constant 110 decibels, and the men were nicknamed waschbar, or “raccoons,” for the black smudges that permanently adorned their faces.

Today, the scene at Zollverein is very different. Inside the coal washery where Spahn once worked—the largest building in the Zollverein mining complex — the air is clean, and its up to 8,000 miners have been replaced by one-and-a-half million tourists annually. The whole complex is now a UNESCO world heritage site: Spahn, who worked here as a fusion welder until the mine shut down on December 23, 1986, is employed as a guide to teach tourists about its history. “I know this building in and out. I know every screw,” he says fondly.

Zollverein is a symbol of Germany’s transition away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy — a program called the Energiewende that aims to have 80 percent of the country’s energy generated from renewables by 2050. That program has transformed Germany into a global poster child for green energy. But what does the transition mean for residents of Essen and the rest of the Ruhr region — the former industrial coal belt—whose lives and livelihoods have been dramatically altered by the reduced demand for coal? The answer to that could hold some useful lessons for those undergoing similar transitions elsewhere…

The trade unions are stronger in Germany than in the United States. Progressive politicians are often voted into office – locally and nationally – in Germany. There has been legitimate, strong pressure exerted upon government and corporations alike in Germany. RTFA and see what a difference that has made in the transition away from the most polluting energy sources.

The Light from Coal begins to Flicker and Die in Colorado


Valmont Power PlantPaul Aiken/Daily Camera

❝ Xcel Energy Colorado has closed several coal plants over the past decade, usually to address air quality concerns in metro Denver. Those early closures have typically resulted in higher electricity rates for its customers.

But last week, the state’s largest utility made an economic argument for shuttering two of its coal-burning units in Pueblo a decade ahead of schedule, saying the move would address public demands for cleaner energy, significantly reduce air pollution, and lower electricity costs.

❝ Xcel Energy submitted its Colorado Energy Plan to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, including a request to shut down two units at the Comanche Generation Station in Pueblo with a capacity of 660 megawatts.

Bids will go out to replace that generation later this year, part of a much larger request for up to 1,000 megawatts of wind, 700 megawatts of solar and 700 megawatts of natural gas generation.

“We expect the Colorado Energy Plan portfolio will come in lower than current costs. It will significantly reduce customer bills,” said Erin Overturf, chief energy counsel at Western Resource Advocates, one of 14 groups involved in working out the agreement with Xcel.

As as the cost of producing electricity becomes cheaper and cheaper, the arguments for switching away from internal combustion engines to drive private transport and commerce will die along with the ideology of fools who advocate for suffocation and stillbirth. Profits rooted in unsound technology will drive profit only for fools and those who think they need fools to govern.