On Germany's new government's plans for wind
Are wind farms about to be built on two percent of the German landmass?
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Germany’s new “super minister” for the climate and the economy, Green leader Robert Habeck, announced his plans for ramping up Germany’s wind energy production last week.
Overall, Habeck wants to increase the proportion of electricity being produced with renewables from the current 40 percent to 80 percent by the end of the decade. That’s a challenge made all the more ambitious by the fact that cars and heating are both supposed to go electric in the coming years, meaning that the total amount of energy needed to create electricity will also increase substantially.
Habeck wants solar panels on the roofs of all new commercial properties - that’s probably not too controversial. The part of the plan that is likely to cause a stink though is a proposal to set aside two percent of Germany’s landmass for wind energy. In other words, two percent of Germany will be a power plant by the end of the decade.
Estimates for just how many wind turbines would be needed to fulfill Habeck’s target vary significantly. At the moment there are some 30,000 turbines spinning away on German soil - conservative estimates foresee this number doubling to around 65,000.
Wind farms are often unpopular with local inhabitants, who hold up new projects via legal complaints, often made on the grounds of nature preservation. Put cynically: show me planning for a wind farm and I’ll show you a village who’ve discovered a sudden love for a rare bat colony.
While bats are a useful tool in holding up plans, speak to locals and they usually have more prosaic concerns: the industrialization of their landscapes, a loss of value of their houses, and sleepless nights caused by ‘infrasound’. Some of these, at least, are legitimate concerns.
Habeck is well aware that so-called “nimby-ism” is the biggest barrier to what he terms “the biggest political task of our generation.” When announcing his plans on Tuesday, he promised to set out on a national tour. “I will be travelling a lot in the country to convince people,” he said.
But if he has a carrot in one hand, he has a stick in the other.
Habeck announced that, in the future, the building of wind turbines would be anchored in law as being "in the overriding public interest and serving public safety". This classification will ensure that attempts to block projects based on nature protection are doomed to fail. For some environmentalists who were once close to the Greens, this’ll be a sour pill to swallow.
Another challenge Habeck will face will be in overcoming laws that state governments have enacted to try to prevent wind turbines being built on their patches.
No state has done this more effectively than Bavaria, where wind turbine construction has ground to a halt in recent years. This is down to a law passed in the southern state which requires any new turbine to be built at a distance from the nearest settlement of at least ten times its own height. Thus, a 200-metre turbine must be at least 2 kilometres away from the nearest village. In a country as densely populated as Germany, such a law is death knell for future wind projects.
One of Habeck’s first missions is therefore to convince Bavarian leader Marcus Söder to change course. “The distance rules that are holding up planning can no longer remain in place," Habeck warned ahead of his trip to Munich.
The Bavarians are unlikely to budge though - even if Söder has taken to hugging trees to demonstrate his green credentials.
Bavaria’s ruling CSU insist that their state is a “sunny land, not a windy one” and say that they would rather extend solar energy production.
The CSU responded to Habeck’s plans, by going for his achilles heel.
“I wouldn’t have thought that the Greens, of all people, would want to restrict people's participation rights,” said CSU faction leader Thomas Kreuzer, in reference to the party of ‘people power’ using federal law to stub out local resistance.
The Greens aren’t impressed by such attacks, though. They know that their new position as a member of the federal government means they can twist Söder’s arm if need be.
Thomas von Sarnowski, Green leader in Bavaria, told the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper that he would advise Söder to accept Habeck’s invitation for talks. Otherwise, “the higher card trumps the smaller one,” Sarnowski warned, explaining that the Greens would work with their coalition partners in Berlin to change the law and thus force the less important Bavarian state legislature to modify its planning rules.
Say hello to the new Green party, Germany. They mean business.
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