EU Commissioner at the Boxberg power plant
Change does not work without people, says Nicholas Schmidt from Luxembourg. He admired League’s turnaround strategy – and the social partnership involved.
Is this clean? Is this a coal power plant? EU Commissioner Nicholas Schmidt looked a little disbelieving when he was greeted by Hubertus Altmann, CEO of Lausitz Energie Bergbau AG (LEAG), and power plant manager Karsten Marschner on Friday at the gates of the Boxberg power plant. Thick clouds pushed water vapor from the cooling towers and swirled them. In fact, they wanted to give the guest of Luxembourg an overview from the roof of the control room. But with the first snowflakes this winter, it’s getting very dangerous. “It wasn’t good for the visitors, but the weather was good for production,” she said instead. We also got a look at the heart of the power station, which is equipped with many screens – the control room. The entire operation is run from this headquarters.
EU Commissioner Schmidt, who is responsible for employment and social rights, wanted to know more about the demands of the energy crisis and structural change. “The power plants that are still available are the backbone of the energy transition. Despite the many devastating fires from abroad, the people here are reliably doing their job, ”carsten Marschner emphasized. 550 employees work five shifts at the Boxberg power plant. However, according to Leag Altmann board member, the power plant would not be viable without mining. The open pit mines of Nochten and Reichwald employ 700 employees. In addition, League has many suppliers and medium-sized service companies under contract. She added that this total number is 4,000 people.
Nicholas Schmidt was interested in how far coal would go “if it weren’t the final stop in 2038”. Even in the tolerable range, coal will extend beyond 2038, but there are plenty of reserves. “But we don’t want to have that discussion anymore,” says Hubertus Altmann. The law requires us to phase out coal. There is compensation for shortened operating times.
A lot of money has been put into the old blocks since the mid 1980’s so they can continue to operate. They are scheduled to be decommissioned in 2029/30, the young ones from 2000 and 2012 in 2038. Then they are “technically exhausted, so the decommissioning curve will be appropriate,” said the power plant manager. Therefore, there is little understanding at League that the negotiated compromise is changing and that coal phase-out may be brought forward to 2030. Hubertus Altmann emphasized: “As a company, we need security planning, so that we can also give our employees a destination consideration”.
Nicholas Schmidt had a very practical question: “We need a lot of electricity for the many electric cars we all want. But where is it supposed to come from?” This is also a concern for many people in this country. In the midst of the energy crisis, all of Leag’s power plants are now operating “at full force” to ensure security of supply. Two already closed blocks in Jänschwalde were restarted for this purpose. For the sake of completeness, Altmann also mentioned that the power plant provides district heating to Boxberg and Weißwasser and wants to remain a good partner of the municipalities.
The company is committed to the energy site in Boxberg. However, it is no secret that Leag is turning to renewable energies in its strategic direction. One knows that “traditional process is limited”. In a brief presentation, Hubertus Altmann, who has learned from scratch on his own in the company and has been there for 45 years, shows where the trip should go.
investments in the future
With GigaFactory one wants to become the largest German center for renewable energies. Construction of the battery systems is scheduled to begin in 2023. But electricity must be available 24 hours a day. This is why Lea plans to build a “hydrogen power station with a 2030 horizon” for Boksburg. Since the infrastructure for this will not be fully available then, hydrogen will initially be produced at home. Coal-fired power plants will be phased out. However, when it expires, there should be “an increase in other energy sources in equal measure.” Employees are taken along – through adapting job profiles and training. “It’s an area of tension: doing one thing responsible until the last day and developing the other at the same time,” he said.
According to Altmann, League wants to invest 1 billion euros annually until 2038. But this requires the urgent release of 1.75 billion euros in compensation. “This will be a great support for us,” he turned to the EU commissioner with a request for support in the country aid measures still underway.
The Saxon Secretary of State for Regional Development emphasized that in addition to potential new settlements, one should also keep an eye on those already in place. “I am delighted that Leag is developing a perspective on its own and not just collecting premiums and gold, as many assume,” said Thomas Schmidt (CDU).
The EU Commissioner stated that 15 years to 2038 seems a long time, but it is too short. “Not only can you define the requirements for the goal, but you also have to be flexible about the way to reach it. So we’ll talk about helping,” Nicola Schmidt promised. There should be no sudden events where people are left with nothing. “Change does not happen without people. The perspective means: good and safe jobs. The league can only be congratulated on the replacement activities. He is optimistic because there is a clear plan that can be implemented in 15 years. The training and retraining process can be accompanied by European funds.”
The EU politician noted with great interest that League’s strategy had been coordinated with the works councils. “Transformation will succeed if social dialogue succeeds,” he said. Germany has a small advantage in participating in the decision. It’s normal for social partners to have arguments, but they need to agree on the big goals. “We accepted the coal settlement, not fortunately, but we embraced it. The current political volatility bothers our people,” explained Martina Kotter, chairwoman of the works board at the power station. As far as subsidies are concerned, she also stressed that money is urgently needed – for investments and also for responsible downsizing There is always a dialogue based on partnership. Even with communities, people build on the clique,” said Silk-Rudolph, head of the job board at the Neuchten open-pit mine.