Coal Phase-out Act: RWE Power takes first plant off grid – Unit D in Niederaussem

From 31 December 2020, RWE Power will decommission the 300-megawatt Unit D at its Niederaussem lignite power station. Decommissioning this unit forms part of the process of exiting from coal, initiated by Germany’s Commission on Growth, Structural Change and Employment in 2019 and codified by both houses of the German parliament this summer in the  Coal-fired Power Generation Termination Act (Kohleverstromungsbeendigungsgesetz). 

Decommissioning Unit D will mean a loss of about 300 jobs in the overall lignite process chain from sourcing the raw material in opencast mines to operating and maintaining the power station. By the end of 2022, by which time RWE will have taken 2.8 gigawatts of power station capacity out of the system, this figure will rise to about 3,000 jobs. By 2030, as much as two-thirds of RWE’s lignite-based power station capacity will have been decommissioned, affecting 6,000 jobs in total. The collective agreement concluded at the end of August will ensure there are no redundancies, and that the decommissioning process will be socially cushioned. 

During the first few years of the process, RWE will bear the brunt of the exit from lignite in Germany. In addition, RWE will terminate hard-coal generation in Germany on 31 December after winning the tender at the first nationwide decommissioning auction for hard-coal power plants for the 800-megawatt Unit E at Kraftwerk Westfalen power station in Hamm and the 800-megawatt Unit B at Kraftwerk Ibbenbüren power station. At the same time, the company is continuing to push ahead with the expansion of renewable energies.

“The fact Unit D has operated reliably in generating electricity for so many years is down to professional management and a well thought-out and successful maintenance programme – and thus also the commitment by the entire team,” emphasises RWE Power management board member Dr Lars Kulik.

Since it was first put into service on 1 May 1968, Unit D has operated for 390,000 hours and generated more than 115 billion kilowatt hours of electricity using 129 million tonnes of lignite. In purely arithmetic terms, that would be enough to supply all electricity consumers in Düsseldorf for almost 30 years. Decommissioning the unit will result in a reduction in carbon emissions of about 2.5 million tonnes per year.

Effective October 2019, five other 300 MW units belonging to RWE have been out of full-time operation but have each been retained on standby for a four-year period. Depending on when the standby arrangement began in each case, these will be definitively decommissioned in October 2021, 2022 and 2023 respectively. 

“Decommissioning this power station unit at Niederaussem is a difficult step, especially for our employees who are involved there, even if they agree with the need to protect the climate and with the legally mandated exit from coal. We will do all we can to support the path to decommissioning in accordance with the law, and at the same time do our part to help achieve the energy transition. Decommissioning this unit is also a further step forward in implementing our rigorous CO2 reduction strategy. By 2040, RWE will be carbon neutral and will end electricity production based on lignite by 2038.”

Dr Frank Weigand, CEO RWE Power