Setting the stage for the future: Lignite or nuclear power?
The stage is set for the future of the Rhenish lignite mining district. On the one hand, RWE's power plants have an increasing demand for lignite. On the other hand, mining conditions become more difficult due to the need to go to increasing depths, a poor coal to waste ratio and varying coal quality.
These problems are solved by conversion to large-scale strip mining, which necessitates a higher level of mechanization, including the use of bucket wheel excavators and conveyor belts. The major investments this involves lead to the merger of RWE's various lignite mining operations into the ‘Rheinische Braunkohlenwerke AG’ (Rheinbraun), Cologne.
After the federal government has for some time stressed its interest in encouraging the participation of German industry in the peaceful use of nuclear power, RWE and the Bavarian state owned ‘Bayernwerk’ join forces to build Germany's first industrial nuclear reactor. The Kahl experimental nuclear power plant (15 megawatts), constructed right next to RWE's Dettingen hard coal fired power plant, supplies its first electricity in 1962. Until its closure in 1985, this plant will serve as a source of important findings which aid the design and operation of commercial nuclear reactors.
RWE occupies its new Headquarters building near Essen's Central Railway Station. Along with the "Rheinstahl Building" and the 'Postbank Building' constructed shortly afterwards, RWE's headquarters building is a major landmark on Essen's skyline.
Following its latest capital increase, RWE has the largest capital stock of any German company, totaling DM 795 million.
The run-of-river plant by Trier connects up with the grid. It’s the first power station constructed by RWE following the expansion of the river Mosel as a major waterway. By 1965 another eight run-of-river plants operate along the Mosel between Trier and Koblenz. They represent an overall capacity of 180 megawatts.
At the urging of the federal government and after exhaustive internal discussions, RWE and Bayernwerk decide to build Germany's first commercial nuclear reactor, Gundremmingen A, on the Danube. This 237 MW boiling-water nuclear reactor, built by Hochtief, is commissioned in 1966. Intended as a demonstration project, this power plant serves as a transitional stage to the coming generation of high-performance reactors producing 600 megawatts and upwards, and is shut down in 1980. In 1984, Gundremmingen Units B and C, each producing 1,350 600 megawatts, come on line in the same location.
Two years after RWE, VEW also starts constructing its first nuclear power station in Lingen /Lower Saxony. Like Gundremmingen, it is also intended for demonstration purposes. In 1968 the Lingen nuclear power station starts operating with a capacity of 160 megawatts. It is shutdown in 1977 due to damage in the conventional part of the plant.
RWE acquires a share in VSE, the ‘Vereinigte Saar Elektrizitäts-Aktiengesellschaft’, Saarbrücken, and transfers a large part of its facilities in the Saarland into the company. As a result RWE gains around a 41 per cent share in the regional utility.
VEW starts operating its first new power station: The Westfalen power station in Hamm. The two coal-fired units each have a capacity of 160 megawatts. At this stage the continual increase in electricity demand can no longer be met by the expansion of existing VEW power stations - Gersteinwerk and Gemeinschaftswerk Hattingen.
Rhenish lignite-fired power plant capacity, in continuous expansion since the beginning of the 1950s, sets another milestone: Capable of producing 2,000 MW, RWE's Frimmersdorf power plant is the world's largest thermal power plant. RWE starts operating two further lignite-fired power stations, in Niederaußem in 1963 and in Neurath in 1972. Up to 1976 these are expanded in several stages.
But RWE does not count on lignite alone: In the Our valley, on the border between Luxembourg and Germany, the 900 megawatts Vianden pumped-storage hydrostation is ceremoniously commissioned. RWE has a 40 per cent stake in this project, which had been planned since 1925; like the Koepchenwerk plant on the Ruhr, it compensates for peak loads and off-peak periods in the international power grid.
At the request of the surrounding municipalities, the Karnap power plant in Essen begins incineration of domestic waste. From 1975, only refuse and sludge from sewage treatment plants is burned in the boilers.
The great economic structural changes of the post-war period leave their mark on RWE too. The coal crisis, which has persisted since 1958, forces the company to stop mining at its last pit, the Victoria Mathias Mine in Essen. Given the ever-growing outputs of the power plants, RWE's small bituminous coal-fired power plants are becoming increasingly unprofitable: In 1969, the original RWE power station in Essen next to the Victoria Mathias Mine is closed. After the demolition of the mine and the power plant, several buildings are erected on the site for RWE, including the computer center. The 'Gewerkschaft Victoria Mathias' is restructured into the 'Victoria Mathias Verwaltungsgesellschaft mbH', Essen, which administers an extensive portfolio of real estate and housing.
In Recklinghausen VEW begins to convert gas supplies from coking-plant gas to natural gas. One year later WFG takes the same step. By 1974 (WFG) and 1975 (VEW) all customers and the entire infrastructure have been converted to the new gas with the higher heating value. Natural gas opens up totally new growth perspectives. Now gas supplies are no longer dependent on coke production and higher demand can be met.
Faced by continually high investment needs, VEW decides on a capital increase. Formerly entirely in municipal hands, shares are now sold to private investors for the first time. Two years later the next capital increase follows. This time RWE, the utility Contigas, the Deutsche Bank and the Insurance company Allianz also invest in VEW.
Consolidated financial statements are prepared for the first time and list 98 companies as being majority-owned by RWE, of which 50 are consolidated. Forty years later, the 2007 Annual Report will list 560 majority-owned companies, of which 290 will be consolidated.