Southeast of Berlin and near the Polish border lies the region of Lausitz, one of Europe’s largest brown coal fields that supplies the coal for Europe’s third most polluting industrial plant: Vattenfall’s Jänschwalde power plant.  The industry turns ever-greater parts of the landscape into open pits and devours one village after another. Most residents give up at some point. Vattenfall uses psychological pressure  and also offers quick financial compensation for all willing to move. One village, though, has decided to resist: Atterwasch.
There are mainly three people in the village driving the resistance. These are the regional pastor Mathias Berndt, the mayor and a farmer.  Together with others, they have given a practical answer to claims that electricity needs to be produced somewhere and that there is no real alternative to coal. The village now produces nearly 100% of its energy requirements from renewable sources. Solar panels on the church and parish hall and a biogas plant create a 100% green energy supply, plus sustainably produced heating for those connected to the central heating system. Alongside the symbolic message, the energy transition also involves a commitment. Most of the installations will only pay off in ten to twenty years, so with every investment they make, residents confirm their will to stay.
From resistance to collective solar power
This way, Atterwasch and two neighbouring villages are becoming centres of resistance against the use of coal as an energy source. From here, the petition for a referendum against open pit mining in Brandenburg was organised between 2007 and 2009. The anti-coal alliance Klingener Runde is also rooted in these villages.  And this is where the regional solar energy collective Solar-Genossenschaft Lausitz developed. Every solar panel installed in neighbouring towns and villages is a practical commitment to energy transition combined with a local investment. For the weakly developed civil society in Lausitz, this constitutes an important achievement. The energy transition gives people the courage to defend themselves, and it is an alternative future perspective and an opportunity not only to say no but to also say yes: yes to a future for the village and yes to the energy transition.
For more information on the power plant in Jänschwalde see: www.lausitzer-braunkohle.de and European Environmental Agency EEA, Factsheet Jaenschwalde 2005.
For example in 2013 the association Pro Lausitzer Braunkohle e.V. collected signatures for the open pit mine Welzow-Süd II. They collected signatures in associations and clubs that receive support from Vattenfall, such as the football club Energie Cottbus. See the newsletter of Grüne Liga, Umweltgruppe Cottbus, July 2013; www.lausitzer-braunkohle.de.
In 2007 residents received a letter from Vattenfall telling them that starting in 2015 they could and should “resettle”.
Vgl. Kunze, Conrad: Modell„Energiedorf“, in: Robin Wood Magazin 1/2011, unter:www.robin-wood.de/Ausgabe-1-11.613.0.html.
For a more detailed description of the local and Brandenburg wide protests and actions against further open pit mining in the Lausitz region see Becker, Sören/Gailing, Ludger/Naumann, Matthias: Neue Energielandschaften – neue Akteurslandschaften. Eine Bestandsaufnahme im Land Brandenburg, edited by the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung, Reihe Studien, Berlin 2012, p. 46.
This article is presented in the Energy democracy in Europe, A survey and outlook by Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung in 2014.