Germany: energy transition in the face of local resistance and red tape

A wind of change is blowing in Germany. As the general elections on September 26 approach, the issue of energy transition occupies an important place in the political debate. The country must, by law, achieve carbon neutrality of here 2045. But the course is strewn with pitfalls.

While the big parties are in favor of solar and wind power, bureaucracy and angry locals are holding back these changes. In Bavaria, for example, in the rural district of Rhön-Grabfeld, Erich Wust endured the red tape of the system.

Whether it is construction permits issued late, or legal actions brought by the neighborhood, this wind farm manager wants real change after the elections.

Residents who feel “invaded” by wind turbines

“If we want to stimulate renewable energies, we have to get rid of all the obstacles” he laments. And sometimes local rules, resulting from German decentralization, add even more complexity.

“Especially in Bavaria, we must get rid of this 10-H rule” he says, referring to this legislation which imposes to respect a distance equivalent to ten times the size of a wind turbine, compared to the houses neighbors.

“This 10-H rule is the reason why no wind farm permit has been filed in Bavaria in the past two years,” he notes.

This rule does not satisfy residents either, who complain that they can no longer “obtain building land”.

“Our municipality can no longer allocate new residential areas because of the two planned wind farms” complains Hubert Warmuth, municipal councilor of Wargolshausen during a meeting of opponents of wind power.

“80% of the inhabitants of Wargolshausen are opposed to it,” adds Monika Zimmer, of the association for the protection of the environment and the cultural heritage of the district of Rhön-Grabfeld. “1,700 people have signed our petition,” she adds.

Administrative absurdities

Other residents of the area say they feel “invaded“by wind turbines with a height of 200 meters, fearing that their houses”lose value“.

While the Greens and the conservatives want to devote 2% of the national territory to wind turbines, the Social Democrats and the conservatives promise to reduce the authorization procedures from six years to six months.

In Wargolshausen, an absurd administrative battle even lasted ten years. Latest legal twist to date: investors were forced to destroy the foundations of future modern wind turbines, supposed to be quieter and more efficient, to replace them with old structures … all because of a complaint filed by a neighbor installed in the rural area, nearby.

We wasted six million euros on this project. It can’t go on like this“complains the investor concerned, Jürgen Rüth.

“_In the future, we need some reliability in energy policy. Almost all parties have included it in their platform: the licensing authorities must speed up the decision-making process. Reliability is necessary , because the energy transition is necessary. What happened here is a disaster “warns his partner, Harald Schwarz.

He wishes politicians would have “a strong spine and confidence to prevent such a dilemma from happening again“.

The role of anti-renewable pressure groups

Raimund Kamm defends the interests of renewable energy producers. President of the Bavarian association of renewable energies, he denounces the lobby of fossil energies.

Today, in 2021, the main interest of the natural gas industry is to stop the energy transition. Their lobby has enormous influence and it’s dangerous“he denounces.

We must put an end to the game of these politicians linked to lobbies. We should blame them: you are the polluters of the climate. We can’t afford to waste four years again“.

In Ebersberg, a rural department near Munich, a new way of public participation is at work. The county organized a public vote on the installation of wind turbines in the state forest, far from homes.

The local “energy agency” was tasked with distributing information to voters and carrying out role plays on how to reduce CO2 levels.

Composed of models simulating energy consumption, these games make it possible to obtain, in real time on a screen, the impact of wind or solar power in a local energy policy. Thanks to this fun and educational consultation, a majority of citizens approved the use of wind turbines.

The department of Ebersberg aims for climate neutrality by 2030. The main pillar for the future will be more photovoltaics and, very important, more wind turbines“explains Manuel Knecht of the energy agency.”This is the only way to accomplish the energy transition. Looking at the impact if we build or don’t build wind turbines. We see that we have to install them to achieve the goal.”

Wind turbines in the forest?

If the majority of citizens have given their consent, some mainland oppose the installation of wind turbines in the Ebersberg logging forest, one of the largest in Bavaria. Legal action is also in preparation.

They want to put the five wind turbines, deep in the forest“deplores Kerstin Mertens, member of the forest protection society.”Ebersberg district could find enough space / land outside the forest to install the wind turbines“adds Benedikt Sommer, from the bird protection association.

The two opponents warn about the consequences that could suffer the animals, facing the blades of wind turbines.

“When bats approach the blades, low atmospheric pressure bursts their lungs,” warns Kerstin Mertens.

For its part, the “bondrée apivore“, a rare species of protected raptor, is”in danger of collision“explains Benedikt Sommer.”They have their breeding ground here, and a few rare pairs. Every crash victim would be a huge loss“.

Protect the species or each individual?

Sören Schöbel and Lea Steiner, for their part, underline the need to fight against the acceleration of the climate catastrophe. Living in neighboring villages, they recall that this forest has been planted, and is intended for exploitation for economic reasons.

Do we want to protect every bat, every bird? – Or do we want to protect the species? Increasing the use of wind energy to achieve the energy transition is a greater contribution to wildlife conservation“says Lea Steiner, expert for ecological transition.

In Germany there are currently around 30,000 wind turbines. There is no doubt that if we take the energy transition seriously, including the energy needs of our industry, we need double or triple the amount of wind power.“analyzes Sören Schöbel, professor of landscape architecture.

On the agricultural level, solar can also be a solution. Karl Schweisfurth decided to turn to this new source of energy for his operation, located in Herrmannsdorf.

We have enough roofs in the area to put photovoltaics and produce all the energy needed“he explains, revealing the panels stored in his barn.

The farmer over there has three huge barns. For its own operation, it does not need as much energy as it could produce on its rooftops. If he received decent compensation for the produced electricity fed into the grid, we could have fewer panels. No need to get 30 cents (per kilowatt hour) – 15 or 18 cents would be enough“he believes.

The next German government will have to make choices when it comes to renewable energy. One thing is certain, the legal framework must be revised urgently, for the energy transition to work.

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