The Coal File

Pietro Viti

2015 - Ongoing

Italy; Germany; United Kingdom; Köln, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany; Hamburg, Germany; Cottbus, Brandenburg, Germany; Berlin, Germany; La Spezia, Liguria, Italy; Brindisi, Apulia, Italy; Vado Ligure, Liguria, Italy; Civitavecchia, Latium, Italy; Pontefract, England, United Kingdom; Nottingham, England, United Kingdom; Wakefield, England, United Kingdom; Lincoln, England, United Kingdom


..Chapters I - II - III

In 1951, after World War II, the idea of Europe begins with the birth of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). Today the European Union (EU) is a completely different institution, but the importance and the impact of the coal in the italian and european energetic production is still strong, despite new technologies and many alternatives.

Worldwide, even now the 44% of the world CO2 emissions are related to coal burning processes. Germany is the 7th major importer of coal in the world, Poland produce the great majority of his energy from thermal coal plants, and in Italy the coal burning processes has grown together with renewable energies.

TCF is a long term project started in Italy in 2015. It shows the coal burning energy industry today, trough an exploration of Europe. Divided in chapters, I’m covering one country at a time, with the aid of a 4x5" large format camera, and with the aim to offer a wide view of how we live today, to imagine new or better solutions for tomorrow.


.On cities and environment in Italy

Brindisi, Civitavecchia, La Spezia, Vado Ligure: these four cities host the biggest and most problematic thermoelectric coal plants in Italy.

The area of the big plants is explored, dismantled, observed in order to understand the impact and the permanent presence of the coal energy production on the italian territory, focusing on landscape, environment, and geopolitical issues.

In Brindisi, the farms in the area are highly damaged by the impact of the coal plant and the 12km long conveyor belt, that links the plant to the port, where the coal arrives by sea.

In Civitavecchia, one of the most ancient harbour in Europe, the impact of the coal arriving by cargo ships is catastrophic for all the flora and fauna of the Tirrenian sea.

In La Spezia, during 1900, most of the gulf of La Spezia was converted in commercial harbor and shipyards, and one of the most important naval base of the italian navy. In this scenario, one of the biggest coal plants in Italy operates in the city, between a residential area and the industrial sites.

In Vado Ligure, the coal power station was closed in 2014 for a judicial procedure related to the air pollution in the area of Savona (Liguria). Situated in an highly populated coastline area, this is the first case in Italy (and one of the few worldwide) that a coal plant closes for pollution.

The little town is still intimidated by the presence of the two big smokestack, just behind the town center, and the big coal conveyor belt.

..TCF: Das Braunkholeland

.On landscape and energy in Germany

Germany holds few records related to the coal industry, especially for the use of “brown coal” (lignite), a specific kind of fuel dug just under the surface of the soil, imported from abroad but also available in different areas of the country.

One of the most relevant area in Europe for the production and the consumption of coal is the Rhine Valley, not far from Köln and Dusseldorf. Endless lignite surface mines makes entire towns to be demolished and built in other areas. Artificial hills covers the old exhausted mines, and are now in use for agriculture and wind power turbines. Big coal plants are disseminated in the area, including tone of the most impactful plant in Europe, Neurath, taller than the famous gothic catedral of Köln, one of the tallest church ever built.

The constant landscape engineering and planning in the Lausitz area, between Leipzig and Cottbus, created one of the biggest lake district in Europe, almost all manufactured, made it possible by flooding the exhausted open pit mines. Regulating water, flora and fauna endlessly, with the idea to substitute the coal industry with tourism and leisure.

The harbour of Hamburg every year welcomes 8 milion tons of coal, delivered by sea, on huge cargo ships. The city produce and use electricity and heating from two big plants, not far from the city centre. The struggle to convert to renewable energy here deal with the most recent coal plant in Germany, just outside the town.

In Berlin it may happen that walking trough Treptower Park, one of the main green area of the capital city, along the Spree river, you can recognise the Klingenberg coal-fired power stations, that, together with a ring of other power plants around the city, produces heating and electricity for the local population and industry. Moving along the river to the city centre, a former coal plant is now a popular music and events venue. In the past, a belt of coal fired power stations determined the balance of the city.


.On industrial heritage and decarbonisation in Central England

Since 2012, Britain has embarked on a rapid phase out from coal, and the few active thermoelectric plants are less and less relevant.

For years committed to explorations around coal and energy, during my last trip on the subject, in November 2018, I started the chapter on the British Isles beginning from the peculiar territory of Central England, where in 2016 in North Yorkshire closed the ultimate depth mine.

In 2019, for the first time since the Industrial Revolution, the national electricity grid did not burn any coal for a whole week. The coronavirus pandemic determined another acceleration to the general decarbonisation process, due to the lower request of energy during the partial closures of the economic activities between march and april, that resulted in closing of more plants and facilities. As of today, 3 out of 4 of the last operating coal power stations in UK are operating in Central England, in the area once called “The Megawatt Valley”.



Pietro Viti is an italian freelance photographer. Born in Bari in 1991, he lives and works in Firenze, where he Graduated at the Fondazione Studio Marangoni in the Three Year Photography Course, in 2015. His main subjects are related to documentary photography and multimedia journalism, focusing on social and environmental issues. He is now working on the longterm multimedia project “The Coal File”. He worked as photographer, assistant and videomaker with newsmedia, festivals, fairs and private clients, and his photographs have been displayed in collective exhibitions and presentations in Italy and abroad. +39 3426121215

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  • Vado Ligure, Italy, 2015

  • In Vado Ligure, the coal power station was closed in 2014 for a judicial procedure related to the air pollution in the area of Savona (Liguria). (Vado Ligure, Italy, 2015)

  • The cooling water spilled from the power plant to the Adriatic sea. Due to the higher temperature of the water, especially during the winter, it became a popular area for fishermen. (Cerano, Brindisi, Italy, 2014)

  • La Spezia, Italy, 2015 - 2014

  • The docks of the Enel power plant in La Spezia, where the bulk cargos dock. (La Spezia, Italy, 2014)

  • Torrevaldaliga Nord thermal coal plant (Civitavecchia, Italy, 2015)

  • Civitavecchia, Italy, 2015

  • Farming activities around the old and the new Neurath plants. The excess heat of the turbines is often used for the nearby greenhouses. The new plant area, operating from 2012, doubled the capacity of the power station, but collides with the german decarbonisation processes. (Neurath, 2017)

  • One of the most relevant area in Europe for the production and the consumption of coal is located in the Rhine Valley, not far from Köln and Dusseldorf. (Garzweiler, 2017)

  • A coal bulk carrier, passing trough a canal in the historic borough of Spandau. (Berlin, 2017)

  • Cottbuser Ostsee, observation tower, Cottbus, Germany, 2018

  • Sachsendorf area in Cottbus, 2017.
    At the edge of Cottbus lies Sachsendorf-Madlow, the largest panel construction development in Brandenburg. Built in a few years for the workers needed by the lignite and energy industry, the development lost 50 per cent of its inhabitants after the german reunification. Now it is part of the IBA-See landscape and reconstruction project.

  • The Welcome Point in Wedel, at the entrance of the port of Hamburg. (Hamburg, 2017)

  • The conveyor belt of the Wedel power station, few km outside the city, on the banks of the Elbe river. (Wedel, Hamburg, 2017)

  • Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station, Nottinghamshire, England, 2018

  • The backyard of S., a former miner, in Pontefract. (Pontefract, 2018)

  • Trent Lock Golf & Country Club, Long Eaton, Nottinghamshire, 2018

  • The entrance of the Underground Tour at the National Coal Mining Museum for England. (Overton, Wakefield, West Yorkshire, England, 2018)

  • The empty space left by the decommissioned power station of High Marnham. (High Marnham, Lincoln, 2018)

  • Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station, Nottinghamshire, 2018