In 2001, the government of Baden-Württemburg called on its regions to identify suitable areas for wind energy development. Although an encouraging sign in theory, it has meant ever since in practice that “where wind farms are not specifically allowed, they are illegal”, as Walter Witzel from the German Wind Energy Association points out.
What is more, the sites considered ‘suitable’ are limited by strict nature conservation rules which often means the best wind locations cannot be used. For example, although the wind is strongest at the tops of mountains, turbines have to be put up below to reduce their visibility.
However, since 2007 the Land now has a new target for 2020 of 12% renewable energy – up from 6.5% in 2006. Coupled with Germany’s binding EU objective of 18% by 2020, the target should help wind energy continue to develop.
The greater political impetus is matched by growing local support for wind energy. Freiburg’s six wind turbines are jointly owned by over 500 local citizens, and plans are afoot to add two more machines.
It is essential that the permit and planning procedures are simplified so that the locals’ enthusiasm for wind energy, and the greater political support, can be converted into Megawatts.
Such streamlining of wind energy planning red tape is one of the overall aims of the 2009 EU Renewable Energy Directive, so despite the difficulties of the past, there’s hope of a windier future for Freiburg.
Sarah Azau, European Wind Energy Association
Germany’s green capital battles for its turbines
Freiburg: the name of the German city conjures up a shining image of a haven of all that is green and sustainable. But less well known are the complications Freiburg has experienced in its attempts to advance renewable energy and especially wind energy. Following the recently agreed 2020 targets, it is worth taking a closer look at the numerous problems and barriers would-be wind power investors are facing.
Freiburg’s sustainable history goes back to 1975 when the city’s students, citizens, regional winegrowers and farmers occupied the building site of a nuclear power plant and managed to stop it going ahead. Since then, Freiburg’s environmental awareness has developed and become well known – a fact that is equally evident in its political landscape: since 2002 the Green Party has held a majority in the city council.
The city’s rules on building and renovation include strict environmental measures. It is home to the famous sustainable neighbourhoods Vauban and Rieselfeld, which boast green features such as low-energy buildings, district heating networks fed by a combined heat and power plant, solar energy and the reuse of rain water.
Dieter Salomon, member of the Green Party and mayor of the city, says Freiburg’s peculiarity is a mix of many different factors: “ambitious political goals, successful cooperation with external partners, an exemplary transport policy and above all the engagement and open-mindedness of its citizens towards sustainability. Within all of this, energy plays a major role, with a decided preference for solar and wind.”
Despite this claim, and Freiburg’s much-vaunted green credentials, there have been various problems surrounding the development of renewable energy – particularly wind energy. In 2002, six wind turbines were installed on nearby mountains Rosskopf and Schauinsland, This triggered a multitude of discussions, newspaper articles and even court proceedings on their visual impacts, installation permissions and their effect on bats.
A study by the University of Freiburg, which tracked citizens’ opinions on wind energy up to 2008, noted that the most commonly voiced objections were the visual impact and the possible threats to a local species of bat – a topic extensively discussed in local newspaper Badische Zeitung. On top of that, a conflict emerged on the question of permissions for part of the farms. The legal part of
this conflict ended with a compromise between the city of Freiburg, the federal state of Baden-Württemberg, and the wind farm operator.
Who was at fault? Local politicians blame the resistance of the then government of the Baden-Württemberg federal state in Stuttgart, and the regional government Südlicher Oberrhein and their conservative approach to nature protection. In 2001, following the national
Renewable Energy Law of 2000, the Baden-Württemberg government requested that regional governments identify suitable areas for wind energy development.
However, while some German federal states responded eagerly to the Renewable Energy Law, up until now Baden-Württemberg has been – together with Bavaria – at the bottom of the wind energy league. At the end of 2008, 344 machines with a total capacity of 422 MW had been installed, providing around 0.7% of net electricity consumption in the federal state.
Walter Witzel from the German Wind Energy Association (Bundesverband Windenergie) says that neighbouring Rheinland-Pfalz has installed ten times more wind than Baden-Württemberg, not to mention federal states such as Sachsen-Anhalt and Schleswig-Holstein (40% and 38.2% electricity consumption from wind, respectively). And the reason is not simply that these states have a lesser wind potential, Witzel says. “In higher locations in Baden-Württemberg, such as the Black Forest or the Swabian Mountains, you can find outstanding sites that have as much wind as coastal areas.”
He believes that the main cause of the federal state’s failure to keep up with other areas is a highly restrictive political framework whereby regional governments point out the so called suitable areas. That means, fi rst of all: “where wind farms are not explicitly allowed, they are illegal”. It also means that after analysing the wind’s potential, numerous other factors are checked before permits are granted, with a particular focus on landscape protection and visual impacts. A suitable area is therefore not necessarily an economically viable area for wind but rather one that doesn’t confl ict with other priorities.
One example is that in the Freiburg region wind turbines cannot, for aesthetic reasons, be put up near the tops of mountains where the wind resource is often best, which is why the turbines on Freiburg’s Schauinsland are erected 200 m below.
Andreas Markowsky from “Ökostromgruppe Freiburg”, the company that operates wind turbines in Freiburg, believes there is no intrinsic harm in the centralised planning of wind farm sites, but that the chosen sites are often not windy enough. “There are hundreds of suitable sites around Freiburg that don’t appear in the regional plan”, he says. Advocates of wind energy in the region talk about “prevention planning” and point out that most of the potential sites the regional plan identifies (2% of the federal state) are economically unviable, therefore they mainly criticise the quality, not the quantity, of the chosen areas.
However, a more positive aspect is the way public acceptance has grown. After the legal battles and heated discussions raised by the fi rst wind turbines in Freiburg, 521 citizens decided to participate financially in the wind farms run by Ökostromgruppe Freiburg and they are now in joint ownership. 1,500 citizens are involved across the region. A gleam of hope can also be seen at the political level: in 2007, Baden-Württemberg’s government published “Energy Concept 2020”.
According to this, the share of renewable energy in primary energy consumption should rise from 6.5% in 2006 to at least 12% in 2020 (from 11.8% to at least 20% of the gross electricity production). It also shows plans to raise the amount of wind power being produced from 0.31 TWh to 1.2 TWh. Walter Witzel welcomes the development: “after years of stagnation in wind energy development, the goals of Energy Concept 2020 are like a silver lining in what was a very grey cloud. Now the words need to be backed up by actions concerning regional planning and permissions.”
But for the German Wind Energy Association, the potential in Baden-Württemberg is far higher than the 1.2 TWh of wind power the Energy Concept 2020 is aiming for. The association believes that if economically suitable areas are chosen, up to 6.5 TWh could be reached. In order to do so, regional planning needs to be opened up, the extension of existing suitability areas has to be reviewed or new ones have to be identified.
In Freiburg, there are now plans to add another two turbines to the six existing ones. According to Dieter Salomon, because such moves depend on the decisions of the regional government, the city of Freiburg can’t just go ahead and put the turbines up. Nevertheless: “we are sticking to our goal and are looking for a political solution for our plans.” In 2007, the Freiburg municipal council
extended the 25% CO2 reduction goals set in 1996 to 40% less CO2 by 2030. “To achieve this, wind energy will be key. Without more wind turbines, Freiburg won’t be able to reach these goals”, stresses Salomon.
Freiburg has 219,430 inhabitants (2007 figures). It is the capital of the Südlicher Oberrhein region, in the Baden-Württemberg federal state in south-west Germany. It has been both Austrian and French, and became definitively German in 1806. Situated right by the Black Forest, it is surrounded by trees and mountains. Its economy is mostly based on research and tourism. Its university, which has about 30,000 students today, was founded in 1457.