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31 Mar 2022, 14:00
Sören Amelang

RWE switches off lignite unit but conserves it in case of emergency

Clean Energy Wire

Utility RWE continues to implement the country's official coal exit timetable by switching off a unit of one of Europe's most polluting power stations, but will ensure the facility can be restarted in case of a gas supply emergency. RWE said it will decommission the 300 megawatt unit A of its lignite power plant in Neurath on 1 April. "Against the background of the current debate about a possible reduction in gas consumption in power generation, RWE will conserve the unit for a short time," the company said, adding it will "initially refrain from taking any measures that could jeopardise recommissioning in the event that the German government decides the plant is still needed temporarily to ensure security of supply." According to the government's coal exit timetable, some lignite units enter a security reserve following their decommissioning, but Neurath unit A was not among them.

 "The Federal Ministry of Economics is currently examining which measures are necessary for the coming winter to ensure security of supply," said RWE Power CEO Frank Weigand. "We have promised the politicians that we will bring power plants back online in an emergency if this is technically possible." Weigand said it was a political decision as to whether - and to what extent - these plants should be available. "Nothing will fundamentally change in the company's coal phase-out." RWE said it has already shut down six power plant units with a combined capacity of around 1,800 megawatts since the end of 2020. Neurath's two 600 MW units D and E will go out of operation this year. Neurath was the second biggest single CO2 polluter in the EU in 2020, emitting almost 19 million tonnes of the greenhouse gas. The decommissioning of Neurath Unit A will lead to an annual reduction in CO2 emissions of around 2.5 million tonnes, RWE said.

RWE and other coal power plant operators said earlier this month that they are making provisions for a runtime extension of decommissioned stations in preparation for possible energy supply disruptions as a result of the war in Ukraine. Green economy minister Robert Habeck said ensuring energy supply security could take priority over climate action if necessary.

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