The companies RWE, Vattenfall and EPH are owners or (in the case of EPH) potential buyers of lignite mines in the Rhineland and in Lusatia. The mining area of Garzweiler near Cologne has the biggest single lignite deposit in Europe. Here, RWE mines just under 100 million tons a year used exclusively for electricity in the local power plants. The mine currently has a size of 48 km². Reserves reach 1.3 billion tons of lignite, which are to be extracted by 2045, according to the company.
In Lusatia (Lausitz), billions of tons of brown coal lie buried underneath a gentle landscape of pine forests, farm fields, and rural villages about 160 km south of Berlin, in what was once East Germany. In the past century, the landscape has been scarred and pitted by strip mines. In all, 136 villages in the Lausitz region have been destroyed to make way for massive strip mines since 1934. Most of the destruction took place after World War II, when the East German government depended on brown coal to power its cities and factories. Pollution from the mines and from primitive, dirty, coal-fired power plants was a major issue for the democracy activists whose efforts eventually helped topple the Berlin Wall. When Germany was reunified in 1989, many of the outdated plants were shut down, and locals thought the era of forced resettlement was over. But brown call has made a comeback,
Lignite being Germany’s most important domestic energy source, such assets risks to become "stranded" assets with no financial value if burning of lignite is banned because of local opposition (entire villages are swallowed up by the open pit mines) and because of the need to prevent climate change by "keeping coal in the hole". Peaceful direct actions have taken place in 2015 and 2016 at big lignite mines in the Rhineland and in Lusatia (Lausitz), stopping operation for a few hours/days. Vattenfall's power stations in Germany had a capacity of more than 8,000 megawatts. Vattenfall in 2016 was trying to sell off its lignite mines in Lusatia (escaping also its liabilities) to EPH, from the Czech Republic. Vattenfall wanted to sell for 2 to 3 billion €, but finally had to pay EPH 1,7 billion for EPH taking over the socio-environmental liabilities in the region.
In both sites together (Rhineland and Lusatia) the directly affected population reaches about 30,000.