Call to halt German HVDC links

A plan for an 800km "transmission highway”, deemed necessary for Germany's energy transition, is being endangered by local protests and state politics.

The high-voltage direct-current (HVDC) SuedLink line proposed by transmission system operators (TSOs) TenneT and TransnetBW is one of three major transmission highways aiming to transport energy from coastal and offshore wind parks in the north to industrial centres in southern Germany, where several nuclear plants will be switched off in coming years.

“The [southern] federal states of Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg and Hesse in 2023 will have to import some 30% of their annual electricity consumption,” says Rainer Joswig, a member of the TransnetBW board.

“But wind energy that is supposed to supplant nuclear power is being produced predominantly at the coasts to the north. SuedLink thus forms the backbone of a secure power supply in southern Germany.”

Last year, Germany’s parliament approved a €10bn ($13.5bn) plan to speed up the construction of 36 high-voltage lines, among them the three HVDC lines from north to south.

The plan was also approved by the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), which now governs together with the previously opposition Social Democrats (SPD).

But maverick CSU leader and Bavarian state premier Horst Seehofer, in a sudden turnaround, is now demanding a moratorium on the HVDC projects, which have led to vociferous "not in my backyard" protests throughout his state.

Nimby groups in Bavaria warn that the “killer lines” will harm the health of their children, and allege that they  won’t only transport wind energy to the south, but also electricity from heavily polluting lignite-fired power plants in eastern Germany. Protests are also intensifying in other states.

Following Seehofer’s call for a moratorium, TenneT and TransnetBW said they will postpone public hearings on the proposed course of SuedLink until politicians at state and federal level give clear backing to the project. The TSOs also say the exact course of the planned HVDC line isn’t set in stone yet.

CSU politicians argue that a draft reform to Germany’s Renewable Energies Act proposed by SPD energy minister Sigmar Gabriel  has altered the business case for the transmission projects. Gabriel’s ministry and northern states have already rejected that notion.

Gabriel is proposing steep cuts in support and caps on onshore wind. The new CDU/CSU/SPD coalition government in Berlin has also scaled back Germany’s offshore ambitions.