Germany’s onshore wind expansion continues to struggle

Onshore wind in Germany is becoming mired in legal battles, threatening its decarbonisation plan [Esa Niemelä / Pixabay]

The German government’s latest attempt to attract investment in onshore wind farms fell flat, according to the results of tenders for renewables published on Friday (30 April), marking another episode in a series of undersubscribed tenders for wind power.

The Federal Network Agency published tenders for onshore wind, solar, biomass, and innovative renewable technologies on 1 February this year, but less than half of the tendered wind capacity was successfully bid on.

However, it is a very different story for solar power. The results show the tender was popular with developers, attracting bids totalling more than 1,500 MW, of which the regulator selected 620 MW of projects.

In fact, solar was oversubscribed while the tender for onshore wind was severely undersubscribed. Out of 1,500 MW on offer, there was a total of 691 MW successful bids.

This is worrying for Germany, where offshore and onshore wind energy is a cornerstone of the government’s decarbonisation plans.

It is also the latest setback in a long list of undersubscribed tenders, dating back to 2017. In that time, Germany has gone from a global leader in developing wind energy capacity to a country locked in a constant struggle against stagnation.

Wind needs ‘goals, land and permits’

In recent years, the expansion of onshore capacity in Germany has become increasingly mired in legal challenges mounted by an alliance of nature conservationists and climate change deniers.

The Nature And Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) has challenged 45 cases in the last decade, which is estimated to have affected 0.5% of applications for wind turbine projects.

The federal wind energy association, BWE, claims that the outcome of the February tender was expected, partly because of this toxic environment. 

The industry says three things are required for Germany to reclaim its leading role in developing wind energy capacity: goals, land and permits. BWE is calling for ambitious and predictable long-term goals, 2% of all federal state land to be reserved for wind energy, and less bureaucratic, faster permitting procedures.

Speeding up permitting procedures has become a vital issue for the industry. A 2019 survey conducted by the onshore wind industry found that companies facing challenges to their permit applications are unlikely to bid in tenders. This is because they could be fined for breach of contract if the permit is not granted.

The survey also revealed conflicts with military airspace needs as well as civilian aircraft navigation systems.

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Overall, the undersubscribed tender has dashed hopes that Germany could be once again on track for a significant expansion of wind power, following a much-lauded trend reversal in 2020.

Industry spokespeople say that Germany needs to add about 5 GW of new wind energy annually in order to succeed in its energy transition.

Despite this, 2019 saw a meagre 1 GW of added capacity, and 2020 about 1.5 GW. For 2021, two more tenders for wind energy are coming up, adding an additional 2.7 GW, if the tenders are fully subscribed.

Even in the best-case scenario, Germany would still be far off achieving the required amount of added wind energy capacity in 2021.

The disappointing tender result also comes at a time when climate policy is becoming a key topic in Germany’s 2021 elections, with the Green Party and the CDU/CSU conservative alliance battling for the number one spot in the polls.

This has led to various CDU/CSU politicians attempting to ‘outgreen’ the Green Party.

EU countries must match promises with policy on wind power, industry says

EU member states must introduce policies to support their wind power ambitions, according to industry lobby group WindEurope.

[Edited by Kira Taylor and Frédéric Simon]

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