The eastern German state of Brandenburg approved plans on Tuesday to allow utility Vattenfall to mine a further 200 million t of brown coal from 2026.
The decision by Brandenburg's cabinet, made up of centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) and the more radical Left party, highlights the complexities of Germany's energy policy, which aims to promote renewable energy.
While Germany has seen a rapid expansion in green energy, which accounts for about 25%of power, Europe's industrial powerhouse still relies heavily on coal. Not only is coal far cheaper than renewable energy – the rise of which in Germany has been supported by massive government subsidies – the country is also adapting to a post-nuclear energy mix, due to its nuclear phase-out following the Fukushima disaster.
"In essence, this is about a safe, sustainable and an affordable as possible supply of energy," said the office of Brandenburg state premier Dietmar Woidke after the decision.
Advocates say brown coal allows the use of domestic raw materials for a reliable source of electricity, especially in industrial parts of Germany, and reduces the need for energy imports.
"We are committed to the expansion of renewable energy," said Woidke. "However, brown coal is indispensable as a bridge into the era of renewable energy."
While Germany plans to ultimately phase out the use of brown coal, in the meantime Vattenfall is a big operator of the open-cast mines in eastern Germany and RWE has mines in the western industrial belt in North Rhine-Westphalia.
Germany's Constitutional Court ruled in December that brown coal mining and the use of domestic raw materials overall was a matter for the government although it said citizens' rights must be respected in terms of relocation and compensation.
Elsewhere in Germany, the state of North Rhine-Westphalia is studying whether its Garzweiler II brown coal mining region, run by RWE, should continue after 2030.
Edited from various sources by Sam Dodson
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