Berlin’s new wind power targets clash with EU bird protection laws – EURACTIV.com
The new German government aims to regain the rapid pace of onshore wind expansion it once had. To do so, he may have to clash with the entrenched interests of nature conservation groups.
The Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection led by Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck has big plans to rejuvenate the country’s declining wind industry.
“The Energiewende is rumbling again. Germany wants a huge expansion of onshore wind,” WindEurope CEO Giles Dickson said in a jubilant welcome to Habeck’s January 11 announcements.
Germany’s Habeck announced earlier this week that he would set aside 2% of German land for onshore wind via a “wind on land law”, a longstanding request from the wind industry.
Hermann Albers, president of the German wind energy association WindEnergie, welcomed the decision, saying “a binding area target must be defined and implemented in all federal states”.
Berlin aims to drive wind power expansion rates to historic highs, eclipsing the 2017 peak by nearly 5GW of additional capacity. “The government fully understands that this requires faster approval of new wind farms,” Dickson said.
Birds against wind turbines
But in order to accelerate the expansion of onshore wind, Habeck may have to clash with the entrenched interests of conservation groups.
Permits for new wind farms are often delayed by concerns about nature conservation and lawsuits from bird protection activists, wrote the right arm of the rector, Patrick Graichen, in October 2021.
“Wind power being one of the key technologies for climate protection and energy transition, it is important to reconcile species protection and accelerated development of wind power,” he said.
However, Berlin’s new wind energy targets could clash with conservationists who have EU legislation to support their cause.
In what is generally called the “prohibition against killing”, enshrined in the EU Birds and Habitats Directive, EU states must prohibit:
- “all forms of deliberate capture or killing [of endangered birds]”,
- “deliberate disturbance, e.g. during breeding, rearing, hibernation and migratory”
- the “degradation or destruction of breeding sites or resting places”
- the “deliberate destruction of nests or eggs, or the gathering, collecting, cutting, uprooting or destruction of protected plants in the wild”
- “the use of all means of indiscriminate capture or killing likely to leading to local disappearances and serious disturbances for populations such species”
- “possession, transport and sale of specimens taken from the wild”
Some say this relatively broad definition of what constitutes bird “killing” has already hindered the expansion of onshore wind power in Germany.
“According to the current state of knowledge, wind energy projects present an abstract risk of mortality, especially for large birds and birds of prey,” read a statement. legal analysis commissioned by Graichen’s former think tank, Agora Energiewende.
Prominent birds such as the red kite or the white-tailed eagle are considered sensitive to wind farms. As wind turbines could technically kill these sensitive species, safety distances are required, making planning processes “complex and difficult”, the analysis adds.
In Brussels, the industry group WindEurope believes that this could justify some changes to the directive.
“New German plans to accelerate wind development up to 10 GW of onshore wind per year may possibly require a change to the ‘EU Birds and Habitats Directives‘,” said Christoph Zipf, Head of Press and communications at WindEurope, at EURACTIV.
The envisaged approach of introducing an aggregate of species rather than an individual analysis could conflict with the directive, he explained.
But conservationists are wary of any attempt to revise the European directive on the protection of birds. “Overall, NABU opposes the opening of the Habitats and Birds Directives,” said Raphael Weyland, nature protection officer at the Brussels office of NABU, a German conservation NGO.
While NABU aims to play a constructive role in accelerating the energy transition, “this must not come at the expense of nature conservation: the nature crisis is just as existential as the climate crisis”, said said Weyland.
EU bird protection directives were deemed “fit for purpose” by the European Commission just a few years ago and contain many exemptions that Germany could use more widely to support wind energy expansion , he explained.
Agora Energiewende’s legal analysis agrees with Weyland on this point. In the interest of expanding wind energy “it will be necessary to make greater use of the possibilities for exemption provided by European species protection law,” reads the analysis.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]