The battle of green versus green wind power in Germany – POLITICO

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BERLIN – Germany’s new government is planning to do something that is sure to enrage some of its most ardent environmental supporters – dramatically expand wind power.

The government aims to build between 1,000 and 1,500 new wind towers per year, thus breaking the administrative impasse that had blocked many projects due to local resistance often expressed in terms of protection of the environment, birds or beautiful views. This means that up to 2% of the country will be covered by new wind projects.

The task of balancing the need to rapidly develop renewable energies while preserving nature falls on Steffi Lemke, the new Minister of the Environment.

“My goal is to propel nature-based solutions,” she told POLITICO, adding: “I want to tackle both biodiversity loss and the climate crisis in the years to come, because we have to tackle these two problems together. “

It is not going to be easy.

Wind power is crucial for Germany’s economic future as the country turns off its last nuclear reactors, which generated around 12% of its electricity last year. Three were closed last week and the last three will close this year. The new government has also pledged to phase out coal-fired electricity by 2030, speeding up the previous coal-phased phase-out schedule – which generated around a quarter of Germany’s electricity last year – by 2038 .

But onshore wind power also arouses fierce opposition, which is why Bavaria passed its 10H law, requiring a wind tower to have a height of 10 times, measured from the ground to the tip of the wind turbine’s blade, from the nearest residential building. This has made new wind developments in the state almost impossible.

Accelerated planning, including in the field of renewable energies, “cannot come at the expense of the protection of nature and species,” said Jörg-Andreas Krüger, president of the German Union for Conservation of Nature. Nature and Biodiversity (NABU), an NGO that was once at the forefront of lawsuits for wind power projects for their failure to sufficiently protect endangered species and has only recently taken awareness of the idea of ​​expanding wind power.

Many fights around land wind turbines revolve around birds. NABU estimates that wind farms in Germany kill more than 100,000 birds a year. Sounds like a lot, but glassed-in buildings kill an estimated 108 million birds a year, and 70 million die in collisions with cars, trucks, and trains.

“As soon as a red kite” – a species of bird enjoying special protection under EU law – “appears on a planning site, in principle nothing can be built there”, said Sven Giegold, Secretary of State at the new Combined Ministry of Climate and Economy. German RND News Wire.

The boss of Giegold and environmental colleague of Lemke, the Minister of Climate and the Economy, Robert Habeck, is well aware of the tensions between the climate and the environment.

“In addition to the climate crisis, a second major ecological crisis is brewing with the extinction of species – not much of a cuddly question either. We have to bring together the economy and the climate, the environment and agriculture, ”Habeck, vice-chancellor, told the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

The Greens Divided

Disagreements over how to increase wind power reflect old divisions within the Greens, between party pragmatists, or Realos, which include Habeck, against his left fundamentalists, or Fundis, considered closer to Lemke, who was the spokesperson for the party’s parliamentary group for environmental protection during the last two legislatures.

The party is already divided on the role that natural gas should play in the energy transition, and onshore wind power is another pressure point.

The government projects between 85 gigawatts and 125 GW of onshore wind by 2030, up from 56 GW today, which means building more than 5 GW of new capacity per year. In 2019, only 1 GW was installed, according to WindEurope, the industry lobby.

Ensuring that nature conservation has a proper place in the government’s push for clean energy will require Lemke to strike a balance between the promises of the coalition and the concerns of key elements of the Green voting bloc.

This is already causing friction.

Giegold called for the European law on nature protection to be revised so that it does not hinder the rapid deployment of renewable energies.

But Lemke said Giegold’s idea “is not a government suggestion” – alluding to the fact that it was not made by Habeck himself. She insisted that the government would respect the coalition agreement to implement the European law on nature protection.

The new government’s coalition agreement recognizes that “biodiversity conservation is a human task and an ethical obligation” and aims to put in place a protection program focused on species threatened by the expansion of renewable energies.

“Species protection is as important as climate protection and even more important, because we can only adapt to climate change when we have species protection,” said Dirk Albach, professor studying biodiversity at the University. Carl von Ossietzky in Oldenburg, Germany.

The transition to cleaner energy also means rethinking the way Germans live, argued Michael Schäfer, head of climate and environmental policy at NABU. He said German society has an “unsustainable hunger for energy” which must be reduced. “We don’t just need to switch to 100% renewable energy, we also need to reduce our overall consumption of energy and nature. “

It’s not an easy message for politicians to get across, which adds to the conundrum for the Greens as they try to balance the need to stay true to their party’s environmentalist roots and the need to do part of a larger ruling coalition.

The party has partnered with NABU and last month presented a joint position paper on the path to a “nature-friendly wind power expansion” – seen as a green attempt to show that the party does not. do not forget nature in its surge of green energy.

It is also a recognition that politicians who deviate from party orthodoxy can get into trouble.

In the state of Hesse, for example, environmental organizations and members of the Green Party slammed Green Transport Minister Tarek Al-Wazir for expanding a highway through a forest – a plan that was part of the coalition agreement which brought the Greens into the state government.

Conquer the public

Lemke will also need to respond to public resistance by explaining the broader implications of climate change versus more local environmental concerns preventing the construction of wind projects.

Simon Müller, director of the work of the Agora Energiewende think tank in Germany, said: “It is often a strong minority of opponents that overshadows the silent majority which is in fact in favor of such projects… It is very important to explain why the climate crisis is an important problem for all of us, why renewable energies are a solution to this problem, and therefore the expansion of renewable energies is necessary. “

Emphasizing the need to switch to renewable energies to halt biodiversity loss will be crucial.

Schäfer stressed that “good climate protection is a prerequisite for species conservation”, as global warming is one of the main drivers of species loss.

Lemke argues that wind power is not the greatest danger to biodiversity. “A single wind farm is not the greatest threat to bird or insect populations,” she said. Species and nature are threatened by “much more than the mere expansion of wind power”, namely by “industrial agriculture, the use of pesticides or the proliferation of algae”.

While this may appease criticism of wind power, it could spark battles with Cem Özdemir, the country’s new agriculture minister and another top Greens official.

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