German court blocks energy giant from razing forest near Cologne

A German court on Friday temporarily blocked RWE from razing part of an ancient forest to make way for a giant open-pit mine, in a rare victory for anti-coal campaigners.

German court blocks energy giant from razing forest near Cologne
'Hambi' is the name given to the forest by activists. Photo: DPA

A German court on Friday temporarily blocked energy giant RWE from razing part of an ancient forest to make way for a giant open-pit mine, in a rare victory for anti-coal campaigners.

The Hambach forest near Cologne has been occupied by activists for the past six years, but its fate had appeared sealed after authorities last month ordered police to dismantle their tree houses in a forced eviction that made headlines at home and abroad.

“This is a good day for nature and climate protection and a milestone for 
the anti-coal movement,” Greenpeace's Martin Kaiser told a press conference.

In an emergency ruling, judges at the higher administrative court in 
Münster said they needed more time to consider the complaint brought by environmental group BUND.

The plaintiffs are arguing that Hambach forest, located in the industrial heartland in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, is home to rare species like Bechstein's bat and therefore qualifies as a protected area under EU law.

An aerial overview of the remaining forest. Photo: DPA

Judges said RWE did not have the right to create an “irreversible” situation on the ground before they had ruled on the “complex” case.

RWE, which owns the forest, had planned to begin clearing half of the  woodland's remaining 200 hectares (500 acres) from October 15th.

The company claims that the expansion of its massive lignite mine is necessary to ensure the energy supply of nearby coal-fired power plants – which are among the most polluting in the European Union.

The David-versus-Goliath battle in the forest has come to symbolize resistance against brown coal mining in Germany, a country that despite its green reputation remains heavily reliant on this dirtiest of fossil fuels.

The former 4100-hectare forest with centuries-old beech trees and oaks is probably the largest open-cast lignite mine in Europe.

Hambach, situated between Aachen and Cologne, is now regarded as a symbol for resistance to lignite-fired power generation and for climate protection.

The state government of North Rhine-Westphalia had instructed the district of Düren and the city of Kerpen to clear the tree houses erected in the forest by deforestation opponents for safety reasons.

Police have dismantled the tree houses in the past few weeks in a dangerous bid, which resulted in the death of one journalist.

SEE ALSO: 'We were never given the time to mourn': Activists continue fight for Hambach Forest

Environmental groups had called for a mass rally at the forest on Saturday but police cancelled the demo at short notice citing safety concerns.

Despite massively investing in renewables in recent years Germany still gets around 40 percent of its energy from coal – in part to offset the impact of Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision after the Fukushima disaster to exit nuclear power by 2022.

The government admitted in June that it will miss its target for reducing 
carbon dioxide emissions.

Rather than cutting CO2 emissions by 40 percent by 2020 compared with 1990 levels, Europe's top economy expects to come in at 32 percent.

“We will remain dependent on brown coal for a long while yet,” Frank 
Weigand, head of RWE's power division, recently told German broadcaster ARD.

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Energy giant EON to cut 5,000 jobs as part of huge takeover deal

German utility EON on Monday said it plans to cut up to 5,000 jobs as part of its takeover of the renewables unit Innogy from rival RWE, in a deal that will redraw the country's energy landscape.

Energy giant EON to cut 5,000 jobs as part of huge takeover deal
Photo: DPA

In a joint statement, EON and RWE said they planned to complete their asset swap transaction, which surprised investors when it was unveiled this weekend, “by the end of 2019”.

EON said it expects the Innogy takeover to generate some 600 to 800 million euros in savings annually from 2022, but warned that the “integration process” will lead to “a reduction of a maximum of 5,000 jobs” out of a total of around 70,000 jobs.

“At the same time, EON anticipates to create thousands of new jobs in the coming decade,” the statement added.

The ultimate goal of the transaction is to allow EON to focus on retail customers and on managing energy networks, essentially buying and selling electricity, while RWE will specialise in generating power from fossil fuels and renewables.

The complicated arrangement comes amid huge upheaval in the sector as Europe's top economy switches from conventional to renewable power under the government's so-called “Energiewende” or “energy transition”.

The deal would first see EON acquire RWE's 76.8 percent stake in Innogy, valuing the clean-energy spin-off at some 22 billion euros.

Pending the green light from financial regulators, EON then intends to make a voluntary takeover offer to Innogy's minority shareholders from “early May”, offering 40 euros per share.

RWE for its part would gain an effective participation of 16.67 percent in EON – turning the one-time competitor into EON's largest shareholder.

The next step of the deal would see RWE take control of EON's renewables business, including Innogy's renewables, its gas storage business, its stake in Austrian energy supplier Kelaq and EON's minority stakes in two nuclear power plants.

In return, RWE will make a cash payment of 1.5 billion euros to EON.

Innogy's energy networks and customer base would remain with EON.

The transaction is still subject to regulatory approval.

The deal would make RWE “a leading European electricity producer,” according to the statement, as the firm becomes Europe's third-largest renewables producer while also hanging on to gas and coal-fired power plants to ensure “security of supply” despite their harmful impact on the environment.

EON meanwhile said it would “focus entirely on meeting the demands of its around 50 million customers across Europe”, and pledged to look into novel climate protection solutions — such as the faster roll-out of charging stations for electric cars.

Merkel welcomes deal

Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed the companies' manoeuvres earlier Monday, saying she was “confident” both EON and RWE were working to find “the best ways” to assure “the supply of sustainable energy” and respond to the country's energy shift.

Germany's energy market has been rapidly transformed since Merkel announced a phase-out of nuclear power after Japan's 2011 Fukushima disaster.

Under the “energy transition”, Germany has raised the share of solar, wind and other renewables to about one third of electricity production.

As wholesale power prices have dropped, the big utilities have been forced into major restructuring.

In response to those challenges, EON spun off its fossil fuel operations and invested heavily in renewables, while RWE remains the biggest power producer and still operates major coal-fired plants.

In a separate statement Monday, EON unveiled its 2017 financial results, which showed adjusted net profits jumping 58 percent year-on-year to 1.4 billion euros.

Operating, or underlying, profit came in at 3.1 billion euros, while EON was also able to trim its massive debt from 19.7 billion last October to 19.2 billion euros.

RWE is due to announce its results on Tuesday.