Germany: Mutiny in the Land of Wind Turbines – Winners & Losers (Part 3)

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July 12, 2013
By Matthias Schulz

But scare tactics won’t work here. The costs of disposing of nuclear waste are also enormous. And nobody likes the moonscapes left behind by coal mining.

People are beginning to have second thoughts. The eastern state of Saxony has already downscaled its expansion plans. And the state of Thuringia to its west doesn’t want any wind turbines located in its forests.

Overall, however, the ranks of fearless politicians whose goal is to build an environmental utopia in Germany remain by and large unbroken.

Robert Habeck, a member of the Green Party who serves as environment minister for the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, sees himself as an agent in the “undertaking of the century.” To underline his determination, he even calls himself the “Minister for the Energiewende.” Today, we are building the infrastructure that will ensure that energy is “as good as free for our children,” he says.

It’s hard to see exactly what he bases his calculation on. Consumers are currently paying more and more for power, while others are making a killing. Members of community-owned wind farms are being tempted with returns of between 6 and 9 percent. These profits are fed primarily by subsidies that have previously been hijacked from citizens.

Farmers are also making good money on the shift to wind power. Desirable locations for wind turbines can bring in more than €50,000 ($65,000) a year in rent in Bavaria. With prices like that, who wouldn’t want to help promote the cause of clean energy?

Baron Götz von Berlichingen, from the village of Jagsthausen in Baden-Württemberg, is a direct descendant of the knight celebrated by Goethe. Together with the power company EnBW, he is building 11 wind farms on his property. Used for farming, the land generated at the most €700 per hectare (2.5 acres) — a fraction of what it earns as a site for wind turbines.

According to opponents of wind power, that’s why permits to build wind farms are being handed out like there’s no tomorrow. They complain about “brainwashed climate apostles,” “traitors of the countryside” and “greedy power gamblers” who are prepared to sacrifice every last inch of the country to the Energiewende.

Sacrificing the Forests
They are right in claiming that growth is rampant. The German government wants to have renewable sources supply 35 percent of Germany’s energy by 2020. And, in their excessive zeal, the federal states have already designated enough land for green infrastructure capable of lifting this figure to 80 percent within the same period.

Instead of banishing the noise-makers to industrial wastelands or erecting them along freeways, they are scattering them across graceful mountain landscapes and areas full of lakes.

These plans have admittedly not been properly thought through. But it is the large-scale attack on forests that wind-turbine opponents find the most appalling. The Nordic pine forests, which formed the magical, emotion-filled realm of the German Romantics, as well as the homes of the ash and the oak, are all threatened by the relaxing of the laws.

From the Odenwald mountain range stretching across southwest Germany to the birch forests of Mecklenburg in the northeast, giant trucks are pushing their way into the woodlands. Johannes Remmel, a member of the Green Party who serves as environment minister for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, has announced that he would like to put up around 2,000 wind turbines in the region’s forests. The state of Hesse also wants to cut down thousands of hectares of trees.

Some pioneering projects are already underway, such as that in Ellern, a small town in the low mountain range of Hunsrück in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate. Ellern has recently become home to a record-breaking wind turbine some 200 meters tall, or far above the treetops.

Semi-trailers pulled nacelles, the enormous housings for wind turbine engines, and transformer stations up the narrow forest roads. A 1,000-ton crane made its way up the slippery slopes to the peak; trees were felled at the side of the road to make way for it. At the top, the forest was cleared to nothing with chainsaws so that concrete foundations could be laid for the turbines.

No one knows what the impact of such activities will be on the flora and fauna. The offensive into this mountain range took place “without checks,” protests Germany’s Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU). In any case, the group says, the idea of generating wind power in the forest should be “rejected on principle.”

Lies and Deception
The decision to not build offshore wind farms turns out to be misguided not just for environmental reasons, but also for economic ones. At sea, turbines can achieve 4,500 full-load hours a year. By the coast, the figure is 3,000. Inland, a site is considered good if it produces 1,800 hours.

The turbines currently being built across Germany, from the Ore Mountains in the east to Lake Constance in the west, are weaker still. Statistics show that the turbines in the south of the country are generating significantly less power than was predicted. The biggest wind farm in Baden-Württemberg, at a height of 850 meters in the Northern Black Forest, has been a flop for years.

“It’s all an enormous swindle,” says Besigheim-based auditor Walter Müller, 65, whose former job involved calculating the value of bankrupt East German factories. Today, he takes the same hard-as-nails approach to examining the books of wind farm companies.

His verdict? A fabric of lies and deception. The experts commissioned by the operators of the wind farms sometimes describe areas with weak breezes as top “wind-intensive” sites to make them appear more attractive, he says. “Small-scale investors are promised profits to attract them into closed funds for wind farms that do not generate enough energy,” he says. “Ultimately, all the capital is eaten up.”

The wind turbines, whose job it was to protect the environment, are not running smoothly. Germany’s biggest infrastructure project is a mess. Everyone wants to get away from nuclear. But at what price?

Even Winfried Kretschmann, the governor of Baden-Württemberg and the first Green Party member to govern any German state, is sounding contrite. But his resolve remains as firm as ever: “There is simply no alternative to disfiguring the countryside like this,” he insists.

The question is: Is he right?

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