With only 500 megawatts of new onshore wind energy coming on-line through September, Germany’s pioneering onshore sector is suffering through its worst year since the beginning of the Energiewende. But instead of helping, the new Climate Package actually sharply reduces onshore wind targets, endangering the whole industry. L.Michael Buchsbaum reports
Throughout the year, Germany’s onshore wind industry has suffered through an intensifying crisis. Compared to 2018, as of the end of September, the rate of expansion had fallen some 80% as only 504 new megawatts of energy came on line. Moreover, the disastrous change from feed-in tariffs to competitive auctions has left some 11 GW of projects stuck in various approval processes due to tighter planning restrictions.
According to DER SPIEGEL magazine, the devastating slump is set to continue as permits for new plants have fallen even further. In total, only 304 new turbines with a total output of 1162 megawatts were approved for future installation. However, how and when they might actually come online remains a mystery. Combining the newly adopted national 1000 meter distance rule and other tightened regulations included within the Climate Package along with the existing byzantine approval processes threatens to suck any remaining wind out of the sector’s sails.
Similar to what a previous CDU/CSU/SPD coalition government did to the solar industry, this present incarnation now seems intent on also kneecapping the onshore wind sector too. With so little growth potential, many investors have already walked away—fueling bankruptcies and costing nearly 40,000 jobs (perhaps twice as many as actually exist in the brown coal industry).
It’s “a catastrophe,” said Reiner Priggen, a former MP of the Greens and now a chief wind power lobbyist for Germany’s Renewable Energies Association. The sector’s collapse is occurring even as the government “is claiming to fully support and implement the Paris climate goals.”
Though officially saying they aren’t playing technological favorites, the new 173-page-long 2030 climate protection programme of the Federal Government for the realisation of the 2050 climate protection plan calls for expanding offshore wind–from a previously planned 15GW to 20GW, as well as expanding the solar PV sector, while drastically reducing the future growth of onshore wind. In fact, the new law’s solution for the current wind energy crisis is to make it permanent.
The government’s decision is even more stunning considering given that wind energy is about to overtake brown coal (lignite) as Germany’s single largest source of electricity for the first time. It also seems clear that the new renewables targets are aimed at prioritizing sectors where larger companies and concerns prevail. Unlike onshore wind, offshore development is dominated by large, multinational firms and is also the favored green energy pathway for the newly enlarged RWE. This is in direct contrast to onshore wind, the success of which was largely propelled by smaller firms, private investors and community groups whose early investments helped propel the young Energiewende. For them the new rules are nothing short of disastrous.
Doubling down on the doublespeak
Following up on the September emergency ‘wind summit’ between the powerful Economic and Energy Minister, Peter Altmaier (CDU) and representatives from the wind industry, nature conservationists and anti-wind energy groups, renewable supporters assumed the new climate laws would help provide clearer direction for onshore expansion. This assumption also included assurances that the government would help create more popular acceptance for onshore wind and simultaneously increase the legal security for projects that have been stuck in limbo by a barrage of lawsuits and other impediments. Given that the agreed upon “to do list” was aimed to ensure Germany actually reaches its 2030 target of 65% renewables share in its electricity mix (up from an 35-40% average today), the industry was blindsided by the Grand Coalition’s agreement.
The new 2030 program also targets a 55% CO2 emissions reduction compared with 1990 levels, calling for 67-71 GW of onshore wind (up from 53.1 GW at end June 2019) that ministers assume will be able to generate 140-145 TWh of electricity annually. While certainly positive steps, the new laws have actually reduced an 80 GW onshore target that was previously envisaged in earlier drafts while also scrapping a proposed annual increase of 3.9 GW of onshore expansion. Ministers chose a much less ambitious 1.4 to 1.8 GW annual increase.
However, the German wind group BWE expects onshore installations this year to come in at less than 1.5 GW. The pace suggests that going forward the country likely will not meet the upper 2030 limits. All in all, the growth rate is a far cry from the 4.5 GW average annual installation increases enjoyed from 2014 to 2017 when Germany constituted Europe’s largest onshore wind market.
New distance rules
But the sharpest blow to onshore’s future is the country-wide introduction of a 1 km minimum distance between new wind farms and existing settlements. This new provision according to calculations published earlier this year by Germany’s environmental agency UBA, could reduce available areas for new installs by 20-50%.
Individual German states have the right to opt out or strengthen these rules up to18 months after the rule comes into force to opt out, however, and municipalities can enact shorter minimum distances. An already existing distance rule in Bavaria of ten times the tip height has already brought new installations in Germany’s biggest state to a complete standstill.
Besides the new distance rules, coupled with lowered overall targets and reduced annual tenders, the climate package seemingly takes an Orwellian turn by demanding that existing planning and permitting impediments to onshore wind expansion must end. Saying it “supports” the repowering of older turbines and the strengthening of community energy, the package calls for communities to benefit more from projects while demanding nature conservation and permitting to be better harmonized. It remains unclear, however, how these supports and demands would be put into practice. Indeed, the combined distance and lowered annual expansion limits “are blocking the transition to an energy supply of the future,” said Julia Verlinden, the Greens’ energy policy spokeswoman.
Shock and Awe throughout industry and climate NGOs
After running the numbers, Simone Peter, president of the Federal Renewable Energies Association BEE, called the 65% by 2030 goal “unrealistic,” fearing the government had already effectively given up on its newly re-affirmed target.
Given that the new laws were partially aimed to get Germany back on track after missing its 2020 climate-protection gap, Greenpeace Germany fears that the new package’s lack of ambitions actually ensures the 2030 target also won’t be reached. Instead, said the organization’s Andree Böhlin, “the implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement and the 1.5° C target are now completely out of sight.”