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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Germany’s energy transition is at the heart of the 2021 federal election

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A wind of change is blowing across Germany. The General elections take place on September 26 and everything indicates that the new government will face a tough challenge to make the country climate neutral by 2045 as voted by law.

One of the main questions in Germany’s election battle is how the country can manage its energy transition. Major political parties back solar and wind solutions, but red tape and angry locals are slowing down change. Bavaria is a prime example.

Erich Wust works as a wind park manager in the Rhön-Grabfeld district of northern Bavaria. He says that Germany’s energy transition is a political battlefield with very slow permit procedures and many legal actions filed.

Wind turbine opposition

Decentralised decision-making has also added to these woes. For example, Bavaria introduced the 10-H rule whereby new wind turbines must be erected at a distance of at least ten times their height from the closest housing unit. What Wust wants is for politicians to change energy-related rules after the election. “If we want to boost renewables, we have to take our foot off the brakes. In particular, in Bavaria, we have to get rid of this 10-H rule as soon as possible. 10-H is the reason why not one single wind park permit was filed in Bavaria in the past two years,” he exclaims.

But why is resistance to wind turbines so strong in rural communities in this area? Some locals say it’s to protect birds or to stop potentially harmful noise exposure, others mention land-use conflicts. According to Hubert Warmuth, a municipal councilor in Wargolshausen, they are no longer able to designate land for the construction of residential areas due to two planned wind parks. Other residents are also concerned by wind turbines bringing down property prices.

Procedural red tape

Both the Green Party and the Conservatives want to earmark two percent of the country’s land for wind turbines. The Social-Democrats and the Conservatives also promise to reduce permit procedure times from six years to six months.

In Wargolshausen, an absurd administrative battle even took ten years to resolve and in the latest judicial hiccup, investors must destroy the bases of modern low-noise turbines to replace them with old-fashioned ones. According to the investors, this has cost them six million euros.

Harald Schwarz, one of the wind park investors in Wargolshausen, wants policy improvements in regard to renewable energy. “The licensing authorities need faster processes and reliability for all parties involved because the energy transition is necessary”, he adds.

Lobbyists

Raimund Kamm lobbies for renewable energy producers. He says that in the past, governing parties were too closely linked to Germany’s coal lobby, therefore slowing down the urgently needed overhaul of the country’s energy politics. He expects a similar scenario in the next government. According to him, the current natural gas industry’s “main interest is to stop the energy transition.” Kamm believes the real culprits are politicians and their political games. He wants them to be called out as climate polluters because “we can’t afford to lose another four years.”

Public awareness initiatives

Ebersberg is a rural district trying new ways to get the public involved. The county organised a public vote on whether to install wind turbines in a state-owned forest, far away from houses. The local ‘energy agency‘ was tasked with handing out information to voters and setting up role-plays on how to reduce CO2 levels. This citizen consultation got a majority to back the wind farms there. According to Manuel Knecht who works for the energy agency, without the wind farms, Ebersberg’s goal of climate neutrality by 2030 will not be possible.

Ebersberg has one of the biggest working forests in Bavaria. Putting wind turbines there would take up a very small part of it. But some opponents, like Kerstin from the society for the protection of Ebersberg Forest, don’t accept the public vote and are preparing legal action. She is doing this to save honey buzzards and several endangered species of bats like the grey long-eared bat.

She tells us that when “the bats approach the rotor blades, the low atmospheric pressure bursts their lungs.” Honey buzzards also live in this forest and they are rare and highly protected. Some couples even breed there. Installing wind turbines would put them at risk of colliding with the blades.

However, other locals stress the importance of fighting a potential climate disaster. Lea Steiner and Soren Schobel live nearby the forest and they point out that it’s a working forest. It was planted and is being used for economic reasons.

Lea took part in a district energy committee to develop proposals to make CO2 reduction targets compatible with citizens. Her argument in regards to the planned wind turbines is that energy transition is a better contribution to wildlife conservation in general. She doesn’t want to save one or two bats but entire species.

According to Soren, the 30 000 existing wind turbines in Germany are not enough. If the country wants to take the energy transition seriously, double or triple are required.

Solar energy space

We visit, Karl Schweisfurth, a local farmer who reminds us that the sun is also part of Germany’s renewable energy. He wants to cover his barn with photovoltaic panels. The main political parties in Germany agree on the need for more solar energy, but disagree on how this should be managed and where to put the panels.

Karl argues that he has many buildings the panels could go on. His neighbour is also in the same situation. Using their roofs would avoid putting the panels in the open landscape. They would just like some kind of compensation in return, 15 or 18 cents per kilowatt-hour would be enough for them.

Germany’s next government will decide on future land use. Who will get what and for what purpose is in their hands. But one thing is for sure, an updated and sensible legal framework is urgently needed to make the energy transition work.

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