Finland's Fortum majority owner in German utility suing Dutch government over coal ban

A Finland-linked firm is taking the Netherlands to court over the country's coal exit.

Uniper’s Maasvlakte coal-fired power station is located near Rotterdam. Image: Andre Muller / AOP

By the year 2029 Finland says it will ban the burning of coal for energy production. At the same time, majority state-owned energy firm Fortum is a majority shareholder in German fossil fuel firm Uniper, which is suing the Netherlands for a similar ban.

Last month Uniper said it was seeking a court ruling on whether plans by the Netherlands to shut all coal-fired power plants by 2030 in the country were legal.

The German utility company opened its Maasvlakte coal-fired plant near Rotterdam in 2016. Plans to build the Maasvlakte plant began in 2006—years before Dutch lawmakers approved the 2019 carbon law.

Compensation for coal phase-out

Esa Hyvärinen,head of the office of Fortum's CEO, told Yle that Uniper’s legal actions are unrelated to Fortum’s carbon neutrality goals.

Hyvärinen said Uniper’s case was merely a reflection of the company fulfilling its duty to shareholders. He said Uniper's management was obligated to investigate whether the company was entitled to compensation from the Dutch government.

"It’s the management’s duty to find out whether compensation is due. We could as owners [of Uniper] switch out the management, but it would not remove this obligation to shareholders," Hyvärinen explained.

He pointed out that Fortum and Uniper were not questioning Dutch carbon laws. The Maasvlakte plant will shutter as mandated by the country’s laws, regardless of whether or not Dutch courts decide Uniper is owed compensation.

State ownership and climate

Last spring Finland updated (siirryt toiseen palveluun) its state ownership policy to include climate goals, saying, "state-owned companies are required to take into account the government’s objective of a carbon neutral Finland by 2035 and the goals of the Paris Climate Convention to limit the rise in global temperature to 1.5 degrees."

That said, Yle wanted to ask Tytti Tuppurainen, the minister responsible for Finland’s ownership steering, whether the government could demand that Fortum intervene in Uniper’s legal case on the basis that the German company’s actions don't align with Finland’s climate goals. Tuppurainen did not grant Yle an interview for this story, but she forwarded Yle some previous public statements she had made.

"Fortum’s strategy is based on the assumption that the company is able to succeed in a carbon neutral society. I require its strong enforcement [on this matter]," Tuppurainen's message said.

She also reiterated Fortum’s reasoning that company laws oblige Uniper to seek legal action to explore compensation.

"As a shareholder, the state supports Fortum and Uniper in these actions. We understand that company management must work to promote the best interests of the company," said Maija Strandberg, a senior financial counsellor working in Tuppurainen’s ownership steering unit.