What are the odds…?

… to hear the name of your relatively small hometown in Germany on American NPR [National Public Radio]?
Close to 0%. Exactly.

So call this a snowball’s chance in hell what happened to me yesterday.
I was driving home from work – a little later than usual because I had to wait for a computer process to finish at work and then stopped at the store to buy some groceries – when I listened to NPR and was totally taken aback when all of a sudden I hear the radio host say “Grevenbroich”.

Say what?

But there it was again. Admittedly, the guy had a little trouble pronouncing the word – what the heck, even some Germans can’t pronounce the name of my city right - but he unmistakably said it.

Apparently, NPR was doing a report about CO2 emissions and all that stuff and since my town is considered the “capital of energy” [because we have some of those HUGE lignite-fired power plants  and enormous lignite resources that are strip mined near my town], it was on the news! [Ok, not the greatest topic to be on the news about, but oh well.]

Here’s the link to the podcasts and the story in writing:

KAI RYSSDAL: Oil’s at $109-something a barrel. The planet’s getting warmer. So the search is on — has been on for a while now, actually — for new sources of clean energy. Nuclear power’s making a comeback. More than 100 new reactors are being built or planned in Europe, Asia and in the developing world.In Germany, though, nuclear’s on its way out — Berlin’s vowed to shut down its last reactor by 2022. Thing is, it’s also promised to cut its carbon dioxide output by 40 percent by 2020.

Brett Neely reports from the Marketplace Sustainability Desk doing both’s going to be a neat trick.

Brett Neely: The western German town of Grevenbroich calls itself Germany’s “capital of energy .” Three massive brown coal power plants produce enough cheap energy to power Germany’s biggest industrial region, the nearby Ruhr Valley. The plants also release epic amounts of carbon dioxide — over 60 million tons a year. That’s earned the town another name: the CO2 capital of Europe .And it’s getting bigger. Another huge power plant is due to come online next year. Hans-Wilhelm Schiffer is the director of energy economics for RWE, the utility that owns the plants.

Hans-Wilhelm Schiffer: Coal has become more important because of the phase-out of nuclear energy.Brown coal is so dirty that it makes the black stuff look good by comparison. But it’s also dirt cheap. This part of Germany sits atop some of the biggest brown coal reserves in the world. By some estimates, there’s another 200 years’ worth of coal here.Although the future of coal looks bright in Germany, the view from Monika Hermkus’ window is decidedly darker. The giant clouds of steam coming from the plants can block out the sun in front of her house for days. Monika Hermkus: I see a windmill from my window and it doesn’t disturb me nearly as much as the power plant does. It goes whoosh-whoosh, but the power plant rumbles loudly.Hans-Wilhelm Schiffer says his utility is spending a billion Euros a year to increase the use of solar and wind power. But he says that won’t provide enough energy to replace coal or nuclear plants. And natural gas? Too expensive. So according to Schiffer, all roads lead back to coal. Schiffer: Lignite is the only domestic energy source that offers sufficient energy reserves on a large scale.Or more specifically, 30 new coal power plants in the next decade — which would make it impossible for Germany to keep its promise to cut CO2 emissions by 40 percent. Across the country, German citizens are suing the utilities and have managed to stop the construction of some new plants.Energy economist Claudia Kemfert says the government needs to decide what’s more important: cutting coal and CO2, or eliminating nuclear plants. If it can’t make it up its mind, she says the country is headed for an electricity crisis. Claudia Kemfert: I would think that within the next five years, we might face real problems and danger of blackouts.In which case, she says, Germany would have to import power from other countries who use coal or nuclear. Hans-Wilhelm Schiffer at RWE says the decision may not be as difficult as it seems. Schiffer: I would say that coal is not part of the problem, but part of the solution of the CO2 reduction question.He says this new brown coal plant will be the most efficient in the world. It will emit one-third less CO2 than an older plant. It’s also designed to work with new carbon-capture technology that pipes the gas underground. But that technology won’t be ready until at least 2020.Economist Claudia Kemfert is skeptical about that timeline. And she says even if carbon capture works, get ready to say “auf wiedersehen” to cheap electricity. Kemfert: There are studies showing that the electricity price might double with this technology.Electricity prices have already doubled here since 2000. If prices go even higher, Germans may well decide that they prefer to sit in the dark.
In Grevenbroich, Germany, I’m Brett Neely for Marketplace.

Is it kind of silly to get excited about this? Maybe.
But if you live so far away from where you grew up, it makes your heart jump for just a second :)

  1. I read about this on Mausi’s blog. I feel like saying, “Come on people let’s clean up our act!”

  2. Your town is famous! We are actually traveling back to my hometown this weekend; it’s the first time we’ve been back since we moved. I can’t wait!


  3. Yay, and the Ruhr Valley is mentioned as well!
    Exciting indeed! :)

  4. hey… i CAN imagine how exciting this is for you. :)
    at least some “heimat” in ca for you.:)

  5. i would think i wouldn’t hear right if they would have mentioned my hometown. i am sure it was all exciting for you. and i would have loved to hear them pronouncing grevenbroich, since you are right a lot of german people don’t even pronounce it right;-)

  6. that is so cute! i would have been excited too!! we have a town called berlin really close by I always get excited when we go there, and also Potsdam, NY is not that far away which is where I grew up, well only on a total different continent. :) happy easter sweetie

  7. Wow!! What are the chances!? Awesome :)

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