Changing energy policy
RWE acquires a 43 per cent stake in one of the Ruhr's most tradition-steeped corporations, the 'Gelsenkirchener Bergwerks-Aktiengesellschaft', Essen, or 'Gelsenberg' for short. In addition to the synergistic effects of the common business areas of power production, chemicals and nuclear technology, Gelsenberg's extensive petroleum operations hold great future promise in terms of diversification of RWE's activities.
Integration of Gelsenberg is making hardly any progress and, in the light of the 1973 energy crisis, the federal government shows a great deal of interest in merging and consolidating German petroleum activities within a single company. So in 1974, RWE sells its Gelsenberg holdings to state-owned VEBA AG.
After a long period during which industry, agriculture and household appliances were the targets of applications research and advertising, RWE now addresses new potential uses of electricity: It founds GES, the ‘Gesellschaft für elektrischen Straßenverkehr’, Düsseldorf, with the aim of developing an electric car for production. In 1983, using the VW Golf as a platform, GES presents the ‘City-Stromer’, the first prototype of an electric car suitable for everyday use.
Construction begins in Kalkar on a prototype 300 megawatts sodium-cooled fast-breeder reactor power plant. Limited stocks of uranium make development of this type of reactor, which should produce more nuclear fuel than it consumes, look like an attractive proposition.
The sluggish permitting procedure delays construction of the plant, which becomes the symbol of nationwide protest against the peaceful use of nuclear energy. In 1991, at the urging of the federal government, the shareholders adopt a resolution to terminate the project.
In addition to lignite, RWE now also uses gas (the Meppen natural gas power station and the Huckingen blast-furnace/coke-oven gas power station and oil (units F and G of the VEBA power plant in Scholven) to generate electricity. VEW focuses more on gas power stations too.
In 1972 and 1973 the company starts operating the natural gas power station in Lingen and four natural gas units at the Gersteinwerk power plant in Werne.
In Biblis/Hesse, RWE starts operating unit A and unit B (1976) of its nuclear power station. Each unit has a capacity of almost 1100 megawatts and it is one of the biggest nuclear power plants of the day. In the following years, a third unit fails to complete the planning stage. One factor is the marked slowdown in the growth of electricity demand, another the increasingly critical stance of political and public opinion towards nuclear power. Plans for further nuclear power stations in Vahnum near Wesel, in Neupotz on the Rhine (together with the RWE subsidiary ‘Pfalzwerke’) and in Rehling near Augsburg (together with the RWE subsidiary ‘Lechwerke’) suffer the same fate.
Motivated by the first energy crisis and increasing environmental awareness, RWE intensifies research and testing of alternative energies and new applications for electricity. Besides the construction of experimental solar plants for hot water generation (like the large-scale proof of concept plant at Wiehl, built in 1976) and the partizipation in Germany’s expertimental wind power plant GROWIAN in 1979, wide-ranging research is carried out into heat recovery and bivalent heating systems. At the end of the 1980s, RWE commissioned its first photovoltaic plants.
In May, what becomes known as the ‘century agreement’ is signed by heads of the coal mining industry and electricity generators in VEW headquarters in Dortmund. Now the electricity generators use more German hard coal to fuel their power stations and further hard coal-fired units are constructed. The backdrop is the ‘Third Power Generation Subsidy Act’ of 1973 which bestowed the ‘Kohlepfennig’ (coal penny) – the costs- on consumers.
As a result, RWE and VEW draw up long-term purchase agreements for the new electricity based on hard coal and after a lengthy interlude again themselves (or in cooperation) construct new hard coal-fired power stations: 1981 Bergkamen (VEW and Steag), 1982 Voerde (Steag and RWE), 1984 Werne (VEW) and 1986 Ibbenbüren (RWE and the mining company ‘Preussag’).
Lahmeyer merges its engineering company, until now targeted at the domestic market, into the ‘Lahmeyer International GmbH’, Frankfurt. Founded in 1966, this company designs and consults on power plant and infrastructure projects on all continents (including power supply grids, power stations, dams and railway projects).
After five years of construction, the extension of the RWE headquarters building in Essen is completed.