Germany to boost renewables in agriculture, link moorlands with solar panels

The three ministers also agreed to have peatlands used for agricultural purposes as a new land category of the EEG subsidy in the future. EPA-EFE/ANDREAS GORA / POOL

Renewable energies are to be used in German agriculture, as the agriculture, climate and environment ministries led by three Green ministers want moor areas – which are key for the climate – to be connected to agricultural photovoltaics. EURACTIV Germany reports.

According to the joint package of measures announced by the three ministers, solar energy is to be expanded by making greater use of agricultural land.

“Our three houses have set out to ensure an optimal exchange between the requirements of agriculture and energy production as well as the protection of nature,” said Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir at the presentation of the paper on Thursday (10 February).

According to the paper, so-called Agri-PVs, which are a smart combination of agricultural infrastructure with a solar PV installation, are to be promoted via the Renewable Energy Sources Act known as the EEG. This should make it possible to use the land for agriculture and energy production.

Financial subsidies for such areas would thus flow through two channels. In addition to subsidies from the EEG, it should also be possible to receive them from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

German ministers to push for end of agri-subsidies in Brussels

Environment Minister Lemke and Agriculture Minister Özdemir displayed unity at a joint appearance on Tuesday (18 January). The two Green ministers want to advocate an end to direct agricultural payments and increased organic production.

Solar panels on peatlands

The three ministers also agreed to have peatlands used for agricultural purposes as a new land category of the EEG subsidy in the future. This means that farmers who re-wet such peatlands could receive additional funding for the construction of solar cells.

The rewetting of peatlands is considered an important climate protection measure, as the restoration binds CO2 from the atmosphere. But because the agricultural use of the land is severely restricted or made impossible, financial compensation for farmers is a central and sensitive issue.

The German Farmers’ Association known as DBV has repeatedly stressed that rewetting measures must be voluntary and adequately compensated.

The association is nevertheless sceptical about the proposal of the Green ministers. The expansion of photovoltaics should continue to take place primarily on buildings or on land converted for this purpose, it wrote in a position paper.

The loss of agricultural land, which is needed for sustainable food security, must be avoided “as far as possible”, it added.

At the same time, the association called for measures to be adapted to the region, and agricultural structural concerns to be weighed up locally in each case.

The structures of farms and their land differ significantly, especially between eastern and western Germany, as Johannes Funke, member of the Social Democrats (SPD) in the Brandenburg state parliament, recently told EURACTIV Germany in an interview.

Eastern Germany’s often vast areas are ideal for installing solar plants. Currently, there is “a real run by investors on large agricultural areas”, Funke said.

It is, however, important not to put very large plants of more than 100 hectares right in front of the local population, the Brandenburg representative also said.

“That already means a change in the landscape – you have to take the people with you,” he added.

According to the DBV, priority should also be given to community energy projects in which local residents jointly own the plants.

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Green trio in government

“We have set ourselves the goal of generating 80% of our electricity from renewable energies in less than nine years,” explained Robert Habeck, the Vice-Chancellor and Economy and Climate Action Minister who has great ambitions for the climate.

Given the meagre 40% share of renewables in the country’s energy mix and the expected increase in electricity consumption, the share would have to be more than doubled.

This means the coalition government will likely rely on solar power to shoulder the burden.

Within a few years, the new federal government wants to almost quadruple solar power capacity in Germany. Of the 750 terawatt-hours that Germany will probably consume in 2030, 200 are to come from solar cells.

The new paper has confirmed what observers have long predicted as all three ministries are in Green party hands.

“In the former cabinet: renewables OR nature conservation OR agriculture. In the end, everyone lost,” commented Özdemir on Twitter.

Up until now, ministries had often been divided. In the previous Grand Coalition under former Chancellor Angela Merkel, former Environment Minister Svenja Schulze and Agriculture Minister of the Social Democrats and former Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner of the conservative CDU, rarely saw eye to eye.

However, the environment ministry and agriculture ministry have not yet been demoted to extended state secretaries of the ministry of economy and climate, as was initially feared.

Even Environment Minister Steffi Lemke has been able to set her own accents, by allowing municipalities to link up with nature conservation.

“We want to make the necessary expansion of open space and agricultural PV compatible with nature: by linking it to nature conservation criteria, the simultaneous rewetting of peatlands and an expansion of the area coverage in disadvantaged areas,” said Lemke.

How will Germany implement the CAP's green targets?

EU farm ministers agreed to a new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in July that favours “greener” farming practices, with terms like “eco-schemes” and environmental “conditionality” taking centre stage during the negotiations. But what does this concretely mean for German agriculture? EURACTIV Germany reports.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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