Standing beside a windswept junction near Germany’s Baltic coast, Thea Funk points at a stretch of land to the north.
“They want to build 12 turbines up there, each one 240 metres high. And down there there are plans to put up more, somewhere between six and eight,” she explains, gesturing to a field across the road. “We’re going to be encircled.”
Behind her, 30-odd people line the road holding signs bearing anti-wind energy slogans. Residents of the Friedland Moor in northeast Germany, they are convinced their landscape is about to be destroyed for the gain of landowners and energy magnets.
Rural protests against wind farms are increasing in Germany and the effect has been dramatic on the country’s flagship green energy programme. Energiewende, one of the most ambitious state-led policies in the world, is now stalling, with key targets disappearing into the wind.
Last year new wind farm projects plummeted by 55 percent as energy companies baulked at the growing number of legal complaints made by restive locals and wildlife funds.
Even without the slowdown in wind energy, Germany is certain to miss its target of a 40 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by the end of the decade. Despite an estimated half a trillion euros spent to date on cutting dependency on fossil fuels, the country’s carbon dioxide emissions have in fact gone up.
And with the last nuclear power stations set to be retired by 2022, even more of the heavy lifting of producing clean energy will soon fall on the shoulders of the renewable sector.
For the Greens, who are currently polling second nationwide, the problems afflicting with the energy transition are manageable. They accuse Berlin of strangling the renewable sector in red tape while exempting big business from paying its fair share of the costs. Under their ambitious plans, all electricity would be produced from renewable sources by 2030 and heating would follow suit ten years later.
But more renewable energy necessarily means more turbines. And whether there is enough political good will left in rural communities for these to be built is open to question.
Mecklenburg-Pomerania, the state where the Friedland Moor project is planned, passed legislation three years ago which compelled wind energy companies to offer people who live nearby a 20 per cent stake in profits.
The law has so far been a flop, with no community taking it up. For Ms Funk, the organiser of the Friedland Moor protest, there is no chance her community could be tempted. “We can’t be bought,” she says, flatly.
Concerns at the protest run far deeper than money.
Gerbatsch Volker, an 83-year-old former vet, fears the turbines’ foundations will contaminate his drinking water. Meanwhile the moor’s bird life will be “shredded”, he says, and all for the gain of “big time investors from the west [of Germany] who came in and bought up the land for peanuts in the 1990s.”
Another protester, Rene Sternke, says that the far-right Alternative for Germany, are using the issue to win votes. The major parties pay lip service to community consultation, he says. Only the AfD are unequivocally on their side.
“The rest of the world is laughing at us,” Ms Funk is convinced. “The whole Energiewende has been carried out back to front.”
The slump in the wind energy sector will drive the final nail into the coffin of German greenhouse gas reduction targets, a factor fuelling the remarkable rise in popularity of the opposition Green party over the past half year.
Anti-wind protesters have been helped by a 2017 change in law which gave energy companies two years to finish a wind project or face having their planning permit annulled.
The legal change was part of wider reforms intended to add competition into the heavily subsidized renewables sector and bring down electricity prices. But rather than making the planning process more efficient, it encouraged communities to use every means at their disposal to delay it over the time limit.
Hermann Albers, head of the BWE, Germany’s major wind lobby, complains that wind’s opponents are “creatively using the legal means on offer to block new projects.”
Industry experts now say that planning applications take up to 800 days, over double the average time from three years ago.
“This is becoming an ever more critical problem for the Energiewende,” warns Albers, referring to the name given to Germany’s state-led transition to renewables.
But wind is just one misfiring piston in an engine being built while the vehicle is already in full motion.
The power lines needed to transport electricity from the windy north to the industrial south are still stuck in the planning stage as locals protest against pylons. The projected costs of €52 billion are certain to go up as the government seeks a breakthrough by putting the cables underground.
The lack of storage capabilities is another expensive problem. Germany’s turbines are regularly shut down during high winds as the power is neither needed on the grid nor can be stored for use at a later point. Annual compensation paid to energy companies for this lost electricity totals over a billion euros.
Fixed prices paid to renewable energy suppliers, compensation paid for unused turbines and fees taken by the national grid for building new power lines all mean Germans now pay the highest electricity bills in Europe.
Across Europe, wind energy hit the doldrums in 2018. New projects sunk by a third as several countries introduced auction systems to try and wean the renewable sector off state aid. Nowhere else was the drop as sizeable as in Germany though, whose share of new wind production plunged 10 per cent to 29 per cent.
Ms Sternke seems quietly confident that the Friedland Moor project won’t see the light of day.
“If it gets planning permission, we’ll take legal action,” she says with a wry smile. Under the new regulatory system, wind energy companies know only too well what that could mean.
[rest of article available at source]
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