Germany’s energy transition at the heart of the 2021 federal elections
A wind of change is blowing over Germany. The general elections take place on September 26 and everything indicates that the new government will have to take up a major challenge to make the country climate neutral by 2045 as voted by law.
One of the main questions of the electoral battle in Germany is how the country can manage its energy transition. Major political parties support solar and wind solutions, but bureaucracy and angry locals are slowing change. Bavaria is a perfect example.
Erich Wust works as a wind farm manager in the Rhön-Grabfeld district in northern Bavaria. He says Germany’s energy transition is a political battleground with very slow licensing procedures and many lawsuits filed.
Decentralized decision making has also added to these problems. For example, Bavaria introduced the 10-H rule that new wind turbines should be erected at least ten times their height from the nearest housing unit. What Wust wants is for politicians to change the rules related to energy after the election. “If we want to stimulate renewable energies, we have to ease off the brakes. In Bavaria, in particular, we need to get rid of this 10-H rule as quickly as possible. 10-H is the reason why not a single wind farm permit has been filed in Bavaria in the past two years, ”he exclaims.
But why is resistance to wind turbines so strong in rural communities in this region? Some locals say this is to protect birds or to stop exposure to potentially harmful noise, others mention land use conflicts. According to Hubert Warmuth, city councilor for Wargolshausen, they are no longer able to designate land for the construction of residential areas due to two planned wind farms. Other residents are also concerned about wind turbines driving down house prices.
Both the Green Party and the Conservatives want to set aside two percent of the land in the country for wind turbines. The Social Democrats and Conservatives also promise to reduce the timeframe for the authorization process from six years to six months.
In Wargolshausen, an absurd administrative battle even took ten years to resolve and in the last legal quack, investors must destroy the bases of modern low noise turbines to replace them with old ones. According to investors, it cost them six million euros.
Harald Schwarz, one of the investors in the Wargolshausen wind farm, wants improvements in renewable energy policy. “Licensing authorities need faster and more reliable processes for all parties involved because the energy transition is necessary,” he adds.
Raimund Kamm is pushing for renewable energy producers. He says that in the past, the ruling parties were too closely tied to the German coal lobby, slowing the urgent overhaul of the country’s energy policy. He expects a similar scenario in the next government. According to him, the “main interest of the current gas industry is to stop the energy transition”. Kamm believes that the real culprits are politicians and their political games. He wants them to be called climate polluters because “we can’t afford to waste another four years.”
Public awareness initiatives
Ebersberg is a rural district that is trying new ways to involve the public. The county held a public vote on the advisability of installing wind turbines in a state forest, far from homes. The local ‘energy agency’ was tasked with disseminating information to voters and implementing role plays on how to reduce CO2 levels. This citizen consultation obtained a majority to support the wind farms there. According to Manuel Knecht, who works for the energy agency, without wind farms, Ebersberg’s goal of climate neutrality by 2030 will not be possible.
Ebersberg has one of the largest logged forests in Bavaria. The installation of wind turbines would occupy only a very small part of it. But some opponents, like Kerstin of the Ebersberg Forest Protection Society, do not accept the public vote and prepare for legal action. She does this to save the honey buzzards and several endangered bat species like the gray bat.
She tells us that when “bats approach the rotor blades, low atmospheric pressure bursts their lungs.” Honey buzzards also live in this forest and they are rare and highly protected. Some couples even reproduce there. The installation of wind turbines would expose them to a risk of collision with the blades.
However, other residents stress the importance of tackling a possible climate catastrophe. Lea Steiner and Soren Schobel live close to the forest and point out that it is a working forest. It was planted and is being used for economic reasons.
Léa participated in a neighborhood energy committee to develop proposals to make CO2 reduction targets compatible with citizens. His argument regarding the planned wind turbines is that the energy transition is a better contribution to the conservation of wildlife 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 it is necessary.
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. Major political parties in Germany agree on the need for more solar power, but disagree on how it should be handled and where to place the panels.
Karl argues that he has many buildings that the signs could continue on. His neighbor is also in the same situation. Using their roofs would avoid putting the panels in the open landscape. They would just like some sort of compensation in return, 15 or 18 cents a kilowatt hour would be enough for them.
The next German government will decide on the future use of the land. Who will get what and for what purpose is in their hands. But one thing is certain, an updated and sensible legal framework is urgently needed for the energy transition to work.