February 4, 2019 / 5:44 PM / 18 days ago

Germany's RWE could preserve Hambach forest, but at a price

ESSEN, Germany (Reuters) - German utility RWE could preserve a forest in the west of the country after a deal to phase-out coal mining and generation, although the cost of doing so would run into tens of millions of euros, its chief executive said on Monday.

Germany’s coal commission said on Jan. 26 that preserving the Hambach forest was “desirable”, in a blow to one of RWE’s main sources of lignite, where mining operations have been halted since a court order in October.

Rolf Martin Schmitz told an industry conference in Essen that once it was clear what the “roadmap” was then RWE would have to draw up a new plan for brown coal (lignite) and would decide whether it was feasible not to fell trees.

While it would be technically possible, but would cost tens of millions of euros given the space needed for mining waste, said Schmitz, adding:

“One would have to ask oneself how much is a tree worth.”

RWE is Germany’s largest operator of coal-fired power plants and employs about 10,000 staff in the Rheinische coal mining area, which also includes power plants.

Plans to expand the mine by clearing the forest, which has become a symbol of anti-coal industry protest, have been delayed and Schmitz has warned that 4,600 jobs could be lost if it cannot continue mining activities in Hambach.

Reporting by Tom Kaeckenhoff; Writing by Vera Eckert; Editing by Alexander Smith

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