Local politics are a bigger problem for renewable energy growth than competition from fossil fuels.
October 31, 2019, 12:00 AM EDT
Despite their surging popularity in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, the Greens did badly in last Sunday’s election in the German state of Thuringia, and the nationalists from the Alternative for Germany Party (AfD) did very well. An important reason is that the Greens support wind energy and the AfD militates against wind turbines. The giant windmills have grown so unpopular in neighboring communities that their construction in Germany has all but ground to a halt.
There are nearly 30,000 wind turbines in Germany, more than anywhere else in Europe. Only China and the U.S., both much bigger countries, have more. Germany gets 23.5% of its energy from wind this year; it’s the biggest source of renewable energy for the country. But in the first half of 2019, only 35 wind turbines were added — an 82% drop compared with the first six months of 2018. Last year was bad, too: Just 743 turbines were added, compared with 1,792 in 2017.
This is happening because it’s getting harder to get permission to erect the turbine towers. Local regulations are getting stricter. Bavaria decided back in 2014 that the distance between a wind turbine and the nearest housing must be 10 times the height of the mast, which, given the density of dwellings, makes it hard to find a spot anywhere. Wind energy development is practically stalled in the state now. Brandenburg, the state surrounding Berlin, passed a law this year demanding that wind-farm operators pay 10,000 euros ($11,100) per turbine each year to communities within 3 kilometers of the windmills.
Wind projects are also often rejected or stalled because they’re deemed to interfere with military communications, air traffic control or broadcast radio stations.
Besides, local opponents of the wind farms often go to court to stall new developments or even have existing towers dismantled. According to the wind-industry lobby BWE, 325 turbine installations with a total capacity of more than 1 gigawatt (some 2% of the country’s total installed capacity) are tied up in litigation.