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Collapse of Wind Power Threatens Germany’s Green Energy Transition

Hardly any new wind turbines were built in Germany in the first half of the year. Turbine makers call it a “punch in the gut of the green energy transition” and blame environmentalists.

The expansion of wind power in the first half of this year collapsed to its lowest level since the introduction of the Renewable Energy Act (EEG) in 2000. All in all, just 35 wind turbines were build with an output of 231 megawatts. “This corresponds to a decline of 82 percent compared to the already weak period of the previous year”, according to the German Wind Energy Association (BWE) in Berlin.

“This makes one nearly speechless,” said Matthias Zelinger at the presentation of the data. The managing director of the Power Systems division of the German Engineering Federation (VDMA) spoke of a “blow to the guts of the energy turnaround”. This actual development doesn’t match “at all to the current climate protection debate”.

“On the one hand the Federal Government speaks of its achievement of ambitious renewable expansion and climate protection goals for the years 2030 and 2050. On the other hand, the perspective is missing,” said Hermann Albers, President of the German Wind Energy Association (BWE): “The discrepancy between claim and reality is growing.”

The federal government wants to increase the share of renewable energy in the electricity supply from around 40 today to at least 65 percent in 2030. But when in 2021 thousands of wind turbines come to the end of the 20-year subsidy period of the Renewable Energy Act,  more wind turbines will be demolished on balance than new ones will be added, the wind industry fears. The government’s green energy and probably also its climate targets would fail.

The reasons for the slump in new construction figures are manifold. Unlike in the past too low subsidies for wind power is not the cause this time. “It’s not about the money,” said Albers: “The energy transition is being slowed down on a small scale.”

The most important cause lies in the legal resistance of wildlife and forest conservationists fighting new wind farms. The BWE President referred to an industry survey of the onshore wind agency. According to its findings, more than 70 percent of the legal objections are based on species conservation, especially the threat to endangered bird species and bats. Wind power president Albers called many complaints unfounded. He claims that the population of the red kite raptors has actually increased in parallel with the expansion of wind power. However, the nature conservation federation of Germany would not support this claim when asked by Die WELT.

In addition to species protection, it is primarily conflicts with noise protection that are leading to legal objections against wind power projects. They are responsible for 17 per cent of legal cases. Monument protection are behind six percent of lawsuits.

By introducing a market-based tendering model, the federal government forced the wind power industry to cut costs and make cut-throat calculations. On top of the growing economic risk comes now the risk of legal action. Both together scare off more and more potential investors. Since the federal government also removed some problematic privileges for so-called community wind farms, there are no longer enough participants for the public auction rounds. Of the more than 1350 megawatts of wind power projects tendered this year, only 746 megawatts could be slated for a project.

Ever since local resident protests in many state parliaments have led to critical discussions about a minimum distance to residential development, the licensing authorities have been acting much more cautiously than before, the wind power lobby criticises. According to BWE figures, 11,000 megawatts of wind energy capacity are currently stuck in the permit backlog.

“Military concerns and FM radio beacons also constituted significant approval barriers”. Altogether 4790 megawatts of wind power are blocked here, of which alone 2370 megawatts are blocked by the distance control. Wind power projects would have to keep a distance of 10 to 15 kilometers in Germany to the stations that are used for navigation in aviation, Albers claimed: Some neighboring states were content with half this distance.

Translation GWPF

Full story (in German)