Small energy startup sparks off brilliant idea: buy and close coal power plant

Vandebron, a small Dutch company that sells peer-to-peer renewable energy, has come up with a luminous pr stunt. In fact their idea is so brilliant that five other parties have jumped on the bandwagon and a crowd funding action has spontaneously been launched in support of the initiative.

The plan is to buy the coal-fired power plant at Hemweg near Amsterdam from utility company Nuon – and close it down.

1 million

It all began just over two weeks ago, with Vandebron offering one million euro’s for the plant. This bid was promptly doubled by the municipality of Amsterdam. A few days later Triodos, one of Europe’s leading ethical banks, and the DOEN Foundation (owned by the Dutch Postcode Lottery) also offered 1 million euro’s each in soft loans. Tony Chocolonely of fair trade chocolate fame said they too would cough up a million, but only if the plant is converted to a chocolate factory. The latest to join is Greenpeace, who together with the Hete Kolen (Hot Coals) citizens’ initiative, has launched a crowd funding campaign, after a great number of Dutch citizens announced they were prepared to help buy the coal plant.

Frustrated with government procrastination, people are taking matters into their own hands. Environmental organisations have been campaigning for years to close down coal-fired power plants in the Netherlands. Since the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change, the urgency of these issues is finally filtering into mainstream awareness.

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Under pressure

The government is under great pressure to meet its legally binding commitments to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Yet so far climate change has barely been a topic of discussion in the formation talks. As Arjen Lubach points out in his satirical Sunday evening TV show, short term thinking seems to prevail. For those of you who understand Dutch, it’s definitely worth watching.

Will Nuon sell?

So how serious are these bids and is there a chance that Nuon will sell? Well apart from the Willy Wonka one possibly, these bids are dead serious. And as it turns out, Nuon may not have much choice.

Nuon has calculated the cost of closing the Hemweg power plant at 55 million euros. This is based on the estimated cost of closing down the plant and dismantling the equipment, plus severance pay for its 230 employees. Yet experts believe the job can be done for well under 10 million. At least half the employees could be transferred to other Nuon locations.  The plant was built in 1995 and the structure is still sound. The equipment, once dismantled, could be sold for re-use.

Hemweg power plant – worthless?

According to energy expert Arnoud Kamerbeek, former chairman of energy company Delta, which closed down its own coal plant in 2015, the Nuon plant at Hemweg has zero value. Even though it is currently being run at a small profit, as soon as it needs a maintenance overhaul (and these are necessary every few years, apparently, and cost millions of euros) the plant will become worthless. Without intervention, Nuon will have to close it anyway. So they may as well cut their losses and sell now.

Check out Vandebron’s artist’s impression of how a dirty coal power plant on the outskirts of Amsterdam could be converted into a beautiful green public space with facilities for children, sports, entertainment and cultural activities.

So which do you prefer? Come on peeps, let’s pull this one off together and get rid of #Hemweg


Nellie Werner
Nellie is a bilingual English/Dutch-speaker with a B.A. in Translation, living and working in Amsterdam.


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