In Germany, the expansion of wind power has stalled. Now the rules for building new wind turbines are to be relaxed and more space reserved for them - including in the forest. In Switzerland, wind energy is not getting anywhere either.
Germany wants to convert its electricity generation entirely to renewable energy sources. The country is continuously taking nuclear and coal-fired power plants off the grid. The last nuclear power plants are to be shut down next year. The coal phase-out should succeed by 2038. Germany plans to increase the share of renewable energies in electricity consumption to 65 percent by 2030. Today it's 45 percent.
But the expansion of renewable electricity production is stalling. This is why voices are mounting in Germany warning of a lack of electricity. If photovoltaics and wind energy were not expanded more quickly, the exit from coal-fired power generation could be delayed by many years, warned the market research company EUPD. A significant shortfall in electricity demand can be expected in just two years. The federal government runs "with sight" into a power gap.
Federal Minister of Economics Peter Altmaier (CDU) recently admitted that his department underestimated how much the demand for electricity in Germany will increase in the future - for example because of the electrification of road traffic and the switch to heat pumps for heating. "Due to the more stringent climate targets in Germany and the EU, we have to assume a significantly higher electricity demand than was previously assumed," said Altmaier to "Wirtschaftswoche". Much more wind power and solar systems are needed.
Wind power projects prevent minimum clearances
Above all, the expansion of wind energy is making slow progress in Germany. While wind farms with an output of 4625 megawatts (MW) and 5334 MW respectively were commissioned in 2016 and 2017, the figure was 2402 MW in 2018, 1078 MW in 2019 and 1431 MW last year. In individual federal states, such as Bavaria or Baden-Württemberg, almost no new wind turbines are being built any more.
Complex planning and approval procedures stand in the way of wind power. The prescribed minimum distances to settlements prevent many projects. Noise and bird protection requirements make the expansion more difficult. In many places, residents are fighting bitterly against planned wind farms and using every legal opportunity to prevent them.
Many existing wind farms in Germany are threatened with shutdown. Because after twenty years of operation of a wind turbine, the financial support expires.
In addition, many existing wind farms are threatened with shutdown. After twenty years of operation of a wind turbine, the financial support expires. Without a guaranteed purchase price, however, continued operation is usually not worthwhile. By 2025, 15,000 MW of wind power capacity could be lost - more than a quarter of the capacity that is installed on land.
In order to give new impetus to wind energy, the conditions for expansion must be relaxed in Germany. Economics Minister Peter Altmaier has spoken out in favor of a simpler and faster procedure for the approval of wind turbines. There is a need for faster procedures and other rules in terms of nature conservation, he says to the «Wirtschaftswoche». In the future, permits should be granted within one year whenever possible. In addition, it is not individual animals that need to be protected from the rotors, according to Altmaier, but only animal species as a whole. Otherwise the energy transition will not succeed.
Two percent of the area for wind turbines
Environment Minister Svenja Schulze (SPD) calls for more space to be reserved for the construction of wind farms. "Anyone who says yes to more climate protection must also say yes to more electricity from wind and sun," she said to the German press agency. Two percent of the land area would have to be available for the construction of wind turbines. Because without sufficient space, the fastest approval procedures would be of no use.
Federal states such as Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg were progressing "at a snail's pace" in expanding wind power, criticized Schulze. "It can't go on like this if we don't want to endanger our industrial location with its energy requirements."
However, reserving more space for wind turbines would certainly mean that more locations are planned in the forest. In the state of Hesse, for example, the government wants to declare two percent of the state's area to be wind priority areas. Conservationists warn of serious consequences for the last undisturbed forests, such as the extensive Palatinate Forest. The government of Baden-Württemberg also wants to make two percent of the area available for renewable energies. The aim is to open up the state forest more to expansion and to build up to 500 wind turbines there.
In the last ten years, 1,400 hectares of forest have been cleared for the construction of wind farms in Germany - an area the size of 2,000 football fields. There are now plants in forest areas by 2020, which makes up seven percent of all wind farms. As many as 20 percent of the newly built wind turbines are in the forest.
Only 43 wind turbines in Switzerland
In Switzerland, too, almost nothing is happening when it comes to expanding wind power. In this country there are only 43 wind turbines in operation. The population's resistance to the construction of new wind turbines is great. For example, a few days ago the community assembly of Muttenz near Basel brought down a planned wind turbine in the Hardwald. There is also no wind farm in the village of Murzelen near Bern: the local council has decided against building four systems with a height of 240 meters - also because of the resistance of the residents.
Since the Federal Council launched the energy strategy ten years ago, new wind turbines have only just been installed in Haldenstein, on the Gotthard and in Peuchapatte. According to the message on the first package of measures of the energy strategy from 2013, wind energy should actually contribute 0.66 terawatt hours to Swiss electricity production in 2020. But in fact it was only 0.1 terawatt hours in 2019. Especially in German-speaking Switzerland, wind energy is “slowly running out of breath”, writes Free Landscape Switzerland, the association of opponents of wind power.
As part of the federal energy strategy, it has been provided since 2013 that wind power will contribute 4.3 terawatt hours of electricity annually in 2050. That is almost eight percent compared to the consumption in 2020. The Federal Council is sticking to this target in the revised Energy Act, which it submitted to Parliament last week, but has lowered the interim target for 2035: from 1.76 terawatt hours to 1.2 terawatt hours
But even that seems difficult to achieve. Especially in German-speaking Switzerland, wind energy is “slowly running out of breath”, writes Free Landscape Switzerland, the association of opponents of wind power. Overall, there are not even twelve locations on this side of the Röstigraben where a wind power project is actively being planned. In contrast, 16 wind farms have been rejected or suspended in Switzerland in the past five years, twelve of them in German-speaking Switzerland. "Politicians have to understand: The longer the federal wind energy plans break, the more the resistance of the population," sums up Free Landscape Switzerland.
(Translation to English using Google Translate)