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Münster Higher Administrative Court: Temporary stop of Hambach Forest clearance by RWE Power

Essen, 5 October 2018

  • Far-reaching ramifications for the planned continuation of the Hambach opencast mine
  • Final decision in principal proceedings to be reached later

It is with great surprise that RWE Power took notice of the resolution handed down by the Münster Higher Administrative Court today to set aside the decision in favour of the immediate implementation of the clearance allowed as part of the main operating plan of the Hambach opencast mine for 2018 to 2020. A final decision on the continued clearance of the area is now to be reached later in the principal proceedings. In so doing, unlike the courts of earlier instance, the Higher Administrative Court granted the appeal filed by BUND nature preservation activist group, the pending suit of which now has a suspensive effect in relation to the clearance. It is thus impossible for clearance work to take place in Hambach Forest during the impending clearance period, which runs from October to the end of February. The other opencast mine operations remain permissible.

The halt to the clearance has far-reaching ramifications for RWE Power. Having already renounced the forest clearing during the last clearance period (2017/18) the company now expects there to be substantial short-term operational effects on the scheduled development of the Hambach opencast mine as early as next year. First, the equipment at the top-most level, which is already right in front of the forest, will have to stop operating. This will affect the recultivation at the same time due to the earth missing from the area. This will trigger a domino effect, with the excavators hitting the lower layers, preventing them from uncovering coal.

A final decision on the further forest clearance will now be issued later in the main proceedings. Such final decision will possibly only be reached end of 2020. According to an initial assessment, the company estimates the economic loss resulting from the expected operational restrictions to be in the low three-digit million euro amount from 2019 onwards. RWE has also informed the capital market in the context of the ad hoc publicity obligation.

Some 4,600 in-house employees and numerous vendor and supplier personnel work in the Hambach opencast mine as well as in the connected power stations and businesses. The opencast mine currently accounts for about 15% of the electricity generated in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Numerous power plant units at the Neurath and Niederaussem sites as well as refining factories, which supply a large number of small and medium-sized enterprises with lignite products for their electricity and heat generation rely on the coal produced by the opencast mine.

The specific consequences for the operation of the opencast mine first require extensive mining investigations. Only thereafter will it be possible to determine the effects for the workers in the opencast mine, the power stations, the refining plants and their customers.

The company now hopes that the lawsuit can be brought to a swift conclusion in the principal proceedings to minimise the damage for the company and its employees.