Greenpeace is serious about acquiring coal mines and power plants owned by Swedish utility Vattenfall in eastern Germany. But the environmentalists don't want to pay anything. The operations, they say, are worthless.
As the third-largest energy producer in Germany, Vattenfall looks for a way out of the coal business - Greenpeace is looking for a way in.
On Tuesday, the environmental group outlined the next step of its bid to take over Vattenfall's German lignite mining operations.
Greenpeace said it means to transfer ownership of four coal-fired power plants and a number of strip mines in the eastern German states of Brandenburg and Saxony to a foundation that would oversee their gradual closure.
The foundation would absorb the costs of phasing out the power plants and recultivating the nearby lands used for mining, which Greenpeace estimates would carry a price tag of about 2 billion euros ($2.27 billion).
But Vattenfall's for-sale assets in the region are only worth about half a billion euros when costs to public health and the environment are factored in, Greenpeace estimated. That's why the environmentalists don't want to pay anything for the takeover.
"We don't want to pay money because it's not worth it," Michael Günther, a lawyer for Greenpeace, told reporters in Berlin.
'It won't happen overnight'
Instead, Greenpeace said at least part of the foundation's funding could come from Vattenfall itself.
In its statement of interest for the acquisition, which the organization said it would submit to the bank overseeing the sale later in the day, Greenpeace said it would not let Sweden's state-owned utility off the hook.
"It must be avoided, that Vattenfall AB as well as the Swedish state disposes of its liabilities due to lignite mining and excavation operations," the statement read.
At Tuesday's press conference, Annika Jacobsson, program manager for Greenpeace Nordic in Sweden, reiterated that at least at first, no jobs in the region would be threatened by the purchase.
"This is not an overnight stop of all the power plants," Jacobsson said. "It is a step-by-step going out of the business."
Vattenfall's eastern German operations employ around 8,000 in a region of the country that is already beset by higher unemployment and substandard development than in western states.
The Swedish utility giant would not comment on Greenpeace's offer, but told DW that "all potential bidders [would] be treated in a non-discriminatory and equal way. The legal regulations are naturally the same for every interested party and frame the way forward in the process."