Altmaier’s planned ‘turbine-free zones’ could halve Germany’s wind energy potential

German Minister of Economy and Energy, Peter Altmaier tries headphones during a visit to the electronic company Sennheiser in Wedemark, northern Germany, 29 August 2019. [EPA-EFE/DAVID HECKER]

Proposals to introduce a minimum distance of 1,000 metres between wind turbines and buildings have attracted fierce criticism from the German environment ministry, which said the draft new rules would derail the country’s plan to boost renewable energy by 2030. EURACTIV Germany reports.

The regulations, planned by the ministry of economic affairs headed by Peter Altmaier (CDU), would reduce the nationwide potential for wind energy by 20% to 50%, according to the German Environment Agency.

“Germany could clearly miss the target of producing 65% of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030” if the 1,000 metre rule was applied, the agency warned on Wednesday (20 November).

And the figure could even reach 70% to 90% in some regions. Hamburg, North Rhine-Westphalia and Schleswig-Holstein would be particularly affected.

Currently, 0.9% of Germany’s total land area is approved for the placement of wind turbines, even if only half of the land is being used. In theory, 81 gigawatts of wind energy could be installed using that land, which is more than enough to reach the 65% renewable energy target by 2030.

But if the minimum distance between wind turbines and homes is determined at 1,000 metres, a much smaller increase of 43 to 63 gigawatts would be possible.

Germany seeks to jolt its stalled wind industry with new offshore plan

Germany’s wind sector is barely growing any more. To achieve its self-imposed 65% target for renewables, Germany has made the promise, for the first time, to heavily expand its offshore wind farms. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Government scuffle

The aim of the new minimum distance requirement between wind turbines and buildings is to avoid citizen protests against new wind projects.

According to Economy Minister Peter Altmaier, the wind turbines are too close to buildings, with an average distance of 700 metres. “However, these 700 metres have not been enough to reduce the backlog of permits, to dissolve the citizens’ initiatives and to build enough wind turbines,” Altmaier told Deutschlandfunk radio on Monday.

Germany’s acute wind energy crisis has nothing to do with the current distance regulations, Altmaier continued, highlighting that the main problem is that there are virtually no more approved areas.

Commenting on Altmaier’s proposal, Environment Minister Svenja Schulze said that “we do not agree with this proposal”. The draft was supposed to have been approved by the federal cabinet last Monday, but the decision was postponed because of the ministers disagreeing.

The wind industry also had some harsh words to spare, even though Altmaier had presented many good points for strengthening wind energy.

In a letter responding to the minister’s plans, large industrial associations wrote that the distance regulation of 1,000 meters “will destroy all further efforts to strengthen the development of wind energy and dramatically weaken onshore wind energy”.

The nationwide minimum distance for wind turbines had already been decided by the cabinet in September and was featured in the government’s long-awaited climate package.

However, it was only last week that the ministry of economy published its draft for a coal phase-out regulation, which made it clear that a housing estate can mean a set of five houses. It also said the rules would apply in built areas but also in potentially future building zones.

This not only significantly reduces the area available for possible future wind turbines, but also makes it impossible to replace old wind turbines with new ones – so-called repowering.

Replacing old turbines, which is currently possible for 53% of all wind turbines in Germany under current rules, would then be further restricted to 35% of them, the environment agency wrote.

Germany seeks to jolt its stalled wind industry with new offshore plan

Germany’s wind sector is barely growing any more. To achieve its self-imposed 65% target for renewables, Germany has made the promise, for the first time, to heavily expand its offshore wind farms. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Federal states are also showing some resistance. At their autumn meeting in Hamburg last Friday (15 November), the environmental ministers of the Länder announced that they would oppose the uniform distance regulation.

In theory, the individual states can also circumvent the new regulations because the climate package of the federal government provides for an opt-out option. This means that the Länder are also free to set their own shorter minimum distances within 18 months.

So far, the states of Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein have announced their intention to opt out.

Debate in Europe

The debate about minimum distances between wind turbines and housing areas is not only raging in Germany. In France, too, the current 500-metre-wide perimeter is to be extended to 1,000 or even 1,500 metres.

There is no EU-wide regulation, meaning the rules vary from region to region. According to a study by the European Commission, most EU member states have set a minimum distance of 500 metres between large wind turbines and buildings.

But in Sweden, Hungary, Estonia and Finland, the minimum distance lies at 1,000 metres, while Poland even provides for a 1,250 metres-wide perimeter.

In the study, the Commission itself proposed a distance of 700 metres for free-standing wind turbines, particularly for the large and noisy ones.

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[Edited by Frédéric Simon and Zoran Radosavljevic]

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