The Velenje Coal Mine operates the largest Slovenian coal deposits and one of the thickest known coal layers in the world. 165 metres thick, its lignite layers have enabled production of over 220 million tonnes of lignite so far. Piled on wagons, it would make up a train that could encircle the Earth twice.
First mention of the coal deposits goes back to the 18th century, first drilling to 1975, and first mines to 1887.
Daniel pl. Lapp was the first one to succeed in producing relevant amounts of lignite after the main lignite layer had been discovered in 1875, the year regarded as the “birth” of the Velenje coal mine. After the first shaft had been opened, miners managed to keep increasing the scope of production despite exclusively manual work. One of the contributing factors was a new railway line, which enabled sales to distant consumers.
The first thermal power plant, lignite-based, was built near the coal mine back in 1905. Coal mining in the Šaleška valley experienced its biggest boom after World War II, when the demand for coal skyrocketed.
Coal production continued to increase until 1990’s. The Velenje Coal Mine accounted for as much as three quarters of all Slovenian coal. Modern equipment and the company’s own coal mining method could barely cover the demand for coal in 1980’s. It was the former country’s appetite for energy that made the Velenje Coal Mine reach its peak annual coal production, 5 million tonnes of coal, in mid 1980’s.
Nowadays, the lignite produced in Velenje is used to power the Šoštanj Thermal Power Plant, which uses the annual coal output to generate one third of all electric power consumed in Slovenia.
The importance of Premogovnik Velenje is measured not only by its ability to meet this fundamental need of the society, but also by the direct impact the coal mining activity has on the environment, as well as by its attitude towards the environment.
The latter relates above all to ties with the local community and its people. Working countless volunteer hours, miners built Velenje with their own hands, thus providing for a strong relation between the development of the town and coal mining.
The influence of the Coal Mine continues to this day. The company supports and encourages sports, cultural, and educational activities. Developed on a site formerly damaged due to coal mining, Tourist and sports resort Jezero now brings together numerous people with its sports grounds, nature, and sports and social events. In 1999, the Coal Mining Museum of Slovenia was established in an abandoned part of the Škale mine, where visitors can experience the development of coal mining in Slovenia.