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PROTESTS

Thousands protest in German town threatened by mine expansion

Thousands of protesters gathered on Saturday in a northwest German village slated to disappear because of a coal mine expansion, as the country looks to decrease its reliance on Russian gas.

People take part in a protest against the destruction of a village for a coal mine in Germany
People take part in a protest against the destruction of a village for the expansion of the Garzweiler lignite open cast mine near Luetzerath, western Germany, on April 23, 2022. - German energy provider RWE is planning to entirely demolish houses in the village of Luetzerath for coal mining. (Photo by Bernd Lauter / AFP)

Organisers said around 3,500 people demonstrated at Luetzerath in the Rhine mining basin, only a few hundred metres from the gigantic Garzweiler open-pit lignite mine, one of the largest in the world.

About a hundred activists decided to protest directly at the edge of the mine, which can be “extremely dangerous”, regional police said in a tweet.

The village, like some others, has long been condemned to disappear to allow the mine to expand further.

Germany is planning to abandon coal by 2030, as part of the fight for cleaner energy sources. Since Russia invaded Ukraine, however, the energy debate has been revived in the country, which is heavily dependent on Russian
hydrocarbons, particularly gas, which accounts for some 55 percent of its energy imports.

People take part in a protest against the destruction of a village for the expansion of the Garzweiler lignite open cast mine near Luetzerath, western Germany, on April 23, 2022. They hold home-made placards reading ‘Luetzi [Luetzerath] stays!’ and ‘No money for coal! (Luetz lives)’. (Photo by Bernd Lauter / AFP)

To ensure sufficient electricity production while reducing dependence on Russian imports, the German government gave itself the option last month of “suspending” the closure of certain coal-fired power stations, while standing by the objective of phasing out coal by 2030.

READ ALSO: Russia’s alarming hold over German energy infrastructure

“How can we trust the government’s ability to contribute to peace in Ukraine if it is destroying homes and villages in its own country for fossil fuels?” said Ilyess El Kortbi, an activist from the Fridays For Future
movement.

Luetzerath has become the new rallying point of the German environmental movement. Activists have built huts and are preparing for a confrontation with police.

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg visited the area last September.

READ ALSO: Germany eyes keeping coal plants open longer as backup

The coal that lies under the ground in these municipalities will be “necessary from 2024” to supply power stations, while other mines in the region are closing, according to the operator, the RWE group.

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ENERGY

German housing co-op slammed for restricting access to tenants’ hot water

A housing cooperative in Saxony has taken the drastic energy- saving measure of restricting access to hot water over fears that Russia could turn off the gas taps in Germany this winter.

German housing co-op slammed for restricting access to tenants' hot water

In a Facebook post that swiftly went viral on Tuesday, the Dippoldiswalde Housing Cooperative in Saxony announced that it would be restricting tenants’ access to hot water at certain times of the day. 

“The prices for gas and electricity continue to rise,” the co-op wrote. “As already announced at the members’ meeting, we now have to save for the winter.”

The notice included a list of times of day (including in the mornings and afternoons on weekdays) that no hot water would be available in their buildings. On Saturdays, tenants will only be able to take a warm shower in the late afternoon, the co-op said.

It also announced that heating would be switched off entirely until September.

Within hours, the post was being widely shared on social media channels, with one user describing it as “fathomless cheek” and another describing it as “crazy”. 

Speaking to the Funke Media Group on Wednesday, Housing Minister Klara Geywitz (SPD) slammed the decision to manipulate the hot water supply as unlawful.

“Simply turning off the hot water temporarily is illegal,” she said. 

The decision to limit tenants’ access to hot showers and heating also drew consternation from ministers in the Saxony state government and from tenants’ rights associations.

The Germans Tenants’ Association pointed out that issues with the hot water would entitle the tenants to a rent reduction.

Since July 1st, just under half of Dippoldiswalde’s 600 apartments have been affected by the new rules. These are the 300 flats that are heated primarily with gas, WDR reported. 

READ ALSO: 

Housing Minister Klara Geywitz (SPD) at an SPD event

Housing Minister Klara Geywitz (SPD) at an SPD event in Berlin.

‘Life is expensive’

The security of Germany’s gas supply has been a growing issue in recent months as the country scrambles to save enough energy to tide it through winter.

Despite the efforts of the Economy Ministry to rapidly diversify the energy supply, Europe’s largest economy still receives around a third of its gas from Russia, which the government fears will put the country in a weak position when the cooler months roll around. 

President Vladimir Putin has already reduced or cut off the gas supply to several EU nations in retaliation for its sanctions over the Ukraine war. 

In Germany, gas deliveries through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline have been docked by 60 percent. 

Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) has launched a campaign to encourage people to save energy voluntarily, for example by taking fewer showers in summer. 

The German Network Agency has also called for legal minimum temperatures for tenants to be reduced in light of the current crisis. 

READ ALSO:

Defending the plans to restrict hot water in the Saxony properties, Dippoldiswalde housing co-op board member Falk Kühn-Meisegeier said the move was to ward off the price hikes for next year. 

“It’s not a matter of bullying the tenants, but rather of adjusting to what we might otherwise not be able to pay next year,” Kühn-Meisegeier told WDR. “We want tenants to get through this crisis well. Life is expensive enough as it is.”

The co-op says it also wants to “generate electricity on our roofs” and pass it on to the members without a levy or charge.

“That would be a real relief,” the housing association said. “No one in Berlin or at the ‘E.on’s of this world’ wants that”.

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