After the brown coal: what to do with the millions?

Dhe energy factory Knappenrode near Hoyerswerda in Lausitz is a bright red brick building that rises high above the tops of the surrounding pine forest. Built in 1918, it once housed the most modern briquette factory in Germany. In 1993 it was almost the last of its kind, in which lignite lumps were pressed into fire-ready briquettes using machines from the imperial era. Since then, the complex has been an industrial monument, museum and conference venue, a symbolic one on top of that. District administrators and mayors from East Saxony recently met here to talk about structural change in view of the exit from coal mining and to distribute subsidies. The federal government has decided that there should be an end to lignite here as well by 2038 at the latest, after more than 150 years.

Stefan Locke

Correspondent for Saxony and Thuringia based in Dresden.

Torsten Pötzsch, Lord Mayor of the City of Weißwasser, stands in front of the entrance to the conference building and – you can write it like this – “fed up”. “Everyone is suddenly calling for structural change money,” says the 50-year-old politician from a local electorate called “Klartext”. “But we, who are directly affected by the opencast mine, simply don’t get enough!”

Weißwasser lies directly on the edge of the Nochten open-cast mine, which extends on the southwestern outskirts of the city. If the wind comes from there, the residents not only hear the dull noise of the mighty excavators day and night, but it also blows an unbelievable amount of dust. “We have endured the dirt for so many years,” says Pötzsch. It was not until the weekend that the laundry hung up to dry in the garden was black again and the dust had collected on the window ledges. “My people tell me: We have the burden, but we don’t get anything.”

Nothing is of course not entirely correct. Of the 13 projects on which the committee called the “Regional Monitoring Committee” made a positive decision on this day, one also comes from Weißwasser. It is about the renovation of the ground floor of the adult education center, “including the infrastructure for digital educational offers” and “charging stations for e-bikes”. Volume: 380,000 euros, contribution to structural change: 0.6 jobs and 0.2 training positions, is noted in the application. It is by far the smallest project to be funded from the 120 million euro pot that will be distributed on that day. The largest chunk, namely more than half of the budget, goes to the city of Görlitz, which wants to test hydrogen as drive technology and autonomous driving in its transport company for almost 68 million euros and thus become a model city. Görlitz, however, is a good 50 kilometers as the crow flies from the nearest open-cast mine.

It is also around 50 kilometers from the opencast mine to the town of Kamenz, which is receiving 31.6 million euros to renovate its swimming pool. Another 50 kilometers further is Oybin, a health resort that receives almost twelve million euros for the tourist development of its castle complex. The operators of the local tourist narrow-gauge railway can look forward to more than 1.3 million euros for converting a coal-powered steam locomotive to light oil firing. He’d rather not say anything about it, says Poetzsch, but his face speaks volumes.

The entire region should remain attractive

Even after the first distribution round in summer, there had been strong criticism that an above-average amount of the money intended for structural change should go to the construction or renovation of kindergartens and cultural centers as well as museums, cycle paths and zoos. The people in the region should treat all of this, says the vice-head of the Dresden branch of the Ifo Institute for Economic Research, Joachim Ragnitz. “But it is not easy to find out how this is supposed to promote economic structural change in the region.” Especially since the funds are also flowing into areas in which coal has not been mined or has never been mined since the time of the GDR.

Leave a Comment