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Climate activists slam Finland's role in new German coal plant

A contested Finland-linked coal power plant was connected to Germany’s grid on Saturday amid protests.

Datteln4
The Datteln 4 power plant is located near Dortmund. Image: Friedemann Vogel / EPA

The Datteln 4 coal-fired power plant opened in Germany on Saturday amid protests. The plant is owned by energy company Uniper in which Finland's majority-state-owned energy company Fortum has a majority stake.

Local news outlets on Saturday reported that up to 500 activists arrived at the power station near Dortmund to protest its connection to the grid. Nine years behind schedule, energy company Uniper’s Datteln 4 is the last new coal-fired power plant to enter into service in Germany, which has decided to phase out fossil fuel.

In March, state-owned energy firm Fortum’s stake in Uniper rose to 70.5 percent. Uniper is separately listed from Fortum, meaning Fortum has no direct ownership in Datteln 4.

Activists: Finland duplicitous

Climate activists have slammed Finland for hypocrisy as the country has pledged carbon neutrality by 2035.

Fridays for Future climate activist Luisa Neubauer said opening the plant would tarnish Finland’s reputation.

"Fortum is a state-owned company, so the Finnish government has a voice. In this case the uncomfortable aspects of climate policy are being outsourced," Neubauer told Yle in March.

Story continues after photo.

Datteln4
German climate activist Luisa Neubauer. Image: Friedemann Vogel / EPA

She claimed the whole project was a case of greenwashing.

"Finnish prime minister Sanna Marin can’t be calling for carbon neutrality in Finland by the 2030s but at the same time be responsible for connecting coal plants to the grid in other countries," she said, adding that linking a coal-fired plant to the grid in 2020 was "absurd, unscientific and totally irresponsible."

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has also taken to Twitter to criticise Datteln 4.

Fortum: Plans to shutter old, inefficient plants

Fortum meanwhile told Yle Datteln 4’s technology was more efficient and better for the environment than Uniper’s old coal power plants.

Germany has decided to phase out all fossil fuel plants over the next 18 years, with the last one set to shutter in 2038.

"It makes sense to first close the old, less efficient and more polluting power plants," said Fortum director Esa Hyvärinen.

Story continues after photo.

Esa Hyvärinen, Fortumin yhteiskuntasuhteiden johtaja.
Fortum's Esa Hyvärinen. Image: Sini Järnström/ Yle

Hyvärinen said Fortum’s long-term goal was to transition from fossil fuels to natural gas and other renewable energy sources.

"But it takes time and investment," he explained.

He said opening a new plant will not increase greenhouse gas emissions in Europe as the EU emissions trading system already sets a cap on emissions in the bloc.

According to Hyvärinen, Uniper makes its own decisions regarding the opening and closing of power plants, but that Fortum, as Uniper's largest owner, would seek to influence the company’s strategy in the future.

Earlier this year state ownership and steering minister Tytti Tuppurainen called on Fortum to draw up an action plan supporting the transition towards a carbon-neutral circular economy.

Last year a report backed by major European environmental groups asserted Fortum was one of the EU's worst emitters of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This finding was mainly based on Fortum's ownership of coal-heavy Uniper.

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