Production of hard coal is coming to an end

T he German coal industry is slowly dying – and almost without public attention. Around 3,000 well-paid industrial jobs at the RAG coal group were lost in 2014, and around 2,000 more are to be cut in 2015. At the end of 2015, the penultimate Ruhr coal mine "Auguste Victoria" in Marl in the north of the coalfield will also close – in all likelihood also practically silently. Protests and demonstrations: Fehlanzeige.

That leaves only two mines in Bottrop and Ibbenburen on the edge of the Munsterland region. The black flags with which the miners once fought fiercely for their jobs have long since been rolled up. "We say goodbye with pride in our achievements, but equally with great melancholy," says RAG CEO Bernd Tonjes.

In 2007, the Bundestag had set a roadmap for the phase-out of loss-making hard coal by the end of 2018. The final review of the resolution, which was initially still planned, was cancelled in 2011. The laborious extraction at depths of more than 1,000 meters in German mines is simply no longer worthwhile when, for example, 30-meter-thick seams can be extracted by bucket-wheel excavators in opencast mining in Australia.

Imported coal is cheaper than self-produced coal

In 2014, only 14 percent of the hard coal consumed in Germany was mined in the country – the rest comes as imports partly from the other end of the world and is still much cheaper. In 2000, miners had still produced more than half of Germany’s consumption themselves.

2005 were still more than 38.000 people were employed in the German coal industry in the Ruhr and Saar regions, the current figure is a good 10.000, by the end of 2015 this figure is expected to be just over 8000.

What consequences this has, can be shown at Marl. The city in the northern Ruhr region with a large chemical park and the traditional coal mine is actually still doing quite well in the otherwise economically battered Emscher-Lippe region. But the loss of jobs in the mining industry is already clearly noticeable. The colliery workforce has already been downsized from well over 3000 to the current 2000.

Even if no more hard coal is mined in Germany after 2018, hard coal-fired power plants like this one in Walsum on the Rhine will continue to operate: coal is already being imported cheaply today

The closure at the end of next year then brings the right blow to the regional economy: "Of course, the retail trade, the gastronomy, the service providers notice this – people simply have less money," says Karl-Friedrich Schulte-Uebbing, the chief executive of the responsible IHK North Westphalia.

The last generation of RAG trainees

For many years, the colliery was also one of the most important training companies in the region. Young employees could learn electronics, mechatronics and industrial mechanics – and even combine them with electrical engineering studies at the mining university of applied sciences in Bochum, which is not far away. These were precisely the skilled workers for whom industry is clamoring today. With the coal phase-out in mind, RAG is now no longer taking on new trainees. 2014 saw the arrival of the last generation.

RAG and the public sector are trying to find new ways for the Marl site, which is soon to be abandoned, using the usual formulas. A study will explore its chances as a new logistics hub. As many people as possible should work on the site again in the future, said Marl’s mayor, Werner Arndt, at a site visit in mid-November 2014. But all involved realize that this is a task of decades rather than years.

RAG continues to exist

Meanwhile, coal continues to play a major role in major energy policy – despite all the debate about CO2. In 2014, hard coal covered 12.6 percent of Germany’s energy consumption – more than renewables (11.1 percent) and much more than nuclear (8.1). Hard coal will continue to accompany the energy turnaround "in the decades to come" even after German production is phased out at the end of 2018, says the head of the German Coal Association, Franz-Josef Wodopia.

RAG wants to participate and will remain permanently as a company with about 300 to 500 employees left after the end of the funding. It then not only takes care of the utilization of its huge properties and the so-called eternal burdens such as the pumping out of mine water, but transforms itself from a coal producer to an international coal trader.

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