Breakthrough in Germany’s wind and solar energy dispute

Energy Minister Peter Altmaier (CDU) had long struggled to reach a compromise between the governing parties. [EPA-EFE | Clemens Bilan/Pool]

Germany’s grand coalition of Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and Social Democrats (SPD) on Monday (18 May) agreed on the abolition of the solar cap and an “opt-out solution” for a standard distance for wind turbines. This is a decisive milestone for the expansion of renewable energy in Germany, EURACTIV Germany reports.

For months, the grand coalition negotiations made little progress, but the parties finally agreed on a compromise proposed by Economics and Energy Minister Peter Altmaier (CDU), according to which the states can actively decide for or against the application of the 1000-metre rule.

Altmaier, who had suggested that local authorities should share the income from the wind farms to boost popular approval, welcomed the deal, calling it “a good day for climate protection in Germany.” Environment Minister Svenja Schulze (SPD) was also “very relieved.”

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The wind turbine debate had become bogged down by the insistence for a uniform distance regulation of 1000 metres between wind turbines and settlements, strongly supported by conservative business circles close to the CDU/CSU. At present, each federal state determines its own regulations.

Studies had shown, however, that with a general distance regulation of 1000 metres without adaptation to regional specifics, the potential for wind power in Germany would have been reduced by an average of 20-50%. This would have made the already difficult to achieve goal of a 65% share of renewable energies in the grid by 2030 practically impossible.

Only Bavaria maintains a stricter distance regulation

Some German states have already signalled that they want to specify a smaller distance. “If municipalities have had wind turbines at a distance of 800 metres for years, we assume that the population has become accustomed to this and are continuing to plan accordingly,” says Schleswig-Holstein’s Energy Minister Jan Philipp Albrecht (Greens).

Only Bavaria wants to stick to its stricter distance regulation, which has been in place for ten years. According to this rule, the distance between a wind turbine and the next settlement must be at least ten times the construction height, for example two kilometres for a 200 metre wheel.

Simone Peter, President of the German Renewable Energy Federation, hopes that other federal states will stipulate smaller distances, saying “I am confident that the states will act accordingly and give wind power a proper boost again.”

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Lifting the solar cap just in time

The agreement on wind turbines also breaks the logjam for the solar industry, where the current 52 gigawatt cap would have been reached in July.

The CDU/CSU had insisted on abolishing the solar cap only in connection with an agreement on wind power, thus blocking the talks. Industry representatives had been sounding the alarm for months, warning of the loss of up to 18,000 jobs.

The current agreement is also intended to speed up planning and approval processes, and to continuously review a coordination mechanism of federal and state governments for the expansion of renewable energy.

The solar industry was relieved, but also pressed for a speedy legal implementation. Carsten Körnig, General Manager of BSW Solar, warned that this would have to happen as early as next week so that the “solar cap would be removed just in time.”

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[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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