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Renewables sector dismayed by German climate package

Wind groups lament planned country-wide distance rule while onshore targets remain unchanged

Ignoring millions of climate protestors on German streets last Friday, governing parties unveiled the outline of a package that came as a huge disappointment to the renewables sector, which said it could actually worsen a current steep decline in wind power additions.

The sector is particularly dismayed by a planned country-wide introduction of a minimum distance between new wind farms and settlements of 1,000 metres, which proponents of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) claim would increase acceptance, as well as by a too-low initial price for CO2.

“It is incomprehensible and grossly negligent that parts of the CDU were able to push through a flat distance rule and consciously create further hurdles,” said Hermann Albers, president of Germany’s wind energy association BWE.

“That throws regional and state planning into chaos; the entire sector is endangered.”

Ministers of Merkel’s so-called ‘climate cabinet’ (the ministers involved in climate legislation) on Friday had presented the cornerstones of a ‘climate protection programme 2030’ that still needs to be approved by her full cabinet as well as by parliament.

The package among a series of measures includes the gradual introduction of a CO2 price in heating and transport, and also an increase to the 2030 offshore wind target to 20GW (from 15 GW previously envisaged) and the scrapping of a 52GW limit until which support for solar installation will be paid.

But to the disappointment of the industry it no longer includes higher annual onshore wind and solar installation targets that a draft ahead of Friday’s announcement still contained.

“Adequate build-out volumes for all renewable energies would have been an important signal and imperative for the emission reduction that is aimed for,” said Matthias Zelinger, managing director of VDMA Power Systems, a group representing wind OEMs.

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“Regarding wind power on land, the climate package is actually counterproductive. A flat-out distance rule, no binding improvements with permits and the lack of a quantitative volume framework do not offer perspectives.”

Introducing a 1,000 metre distance rule could reduce areas available for onshore wind by 20-50%, according to calculations by Germany’s environmental agency UBA.

Currently, only Bavaria already operates a distance rule, of 10 times the turbine height, which has brought new installations in Germany’s biggest state by area to a complete standstill.

A CO2 price in heating and transport that is slated to increase from in initial €10 per ton of CO2 in 2021 to €35/ton of CO2 in 2025 is far too low to have any impact on the behaviour of consumers, renewables groups and scientists warned.

“With the announcements [of the climate package], the 65% renewables target [by 2030] becomes nonsense,” said Simone Peter, president of Germany’s renewable energies federation BEE.

The Green Party – in opposition on the federal level, but in coalition governments in nine out of Germany’s 16 states – has announced it will seek to make the climate package more rigorous when it comes to a vote in the Bundesrat, Germany’s upper house of parliament that represents states.

As the Greens in those states are in coalition with either the CDU or Social Democrats (SPD), or both, it is unclear how much scope for action in the Bundesrat they will have, though. It is customary for a state to abstain in a Bundesrat vote if coalition partners can’t agree on a common position.

The Greens and the renewables sector have much of public opinion on their side. More than 1.4 million climate protesters took to the streets in more than 500 demonstrations across Germany on Friday demanding faster climate protection measures. In Berlin alone, some 270,000 people demonstrated, according to organisers.

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