Economics and energy minister Peter Altmaier has given up on a plan to introduce a Germany-wide rule for a minimum distance of 1km between new wind projects on land and the nearest settlement.

The ministry instead has proposed amending the country’s building code to explicitly allow federal states to decide themselves whether or not to impose a 1km distance, a ministry spokeswoman told Recharge.

States according to the draft would also be able to deviate from set distances, which in practice represents an opt-in solution to the distance rule.

First reactions from the renewables industry were cautious.

“It is yet unclear, whether the proposal by minister Altmaier in the end will advance the Energiewende (energy transition) and climate protection, or actually impede it,” said Marcel Keiffenheim from the policy department at independent power producer Greenpeace Energy.

“States are now supposed to decide themselves, which minimum distance they set for new wind turbines. The question is only, in what direction? Couldn’t this also mean that individual states in the end set distance rules that are even much stricter than the 1,000 metres proposed by the federal government?”

That would mean an end to any new wind developments in many regions, Keiffenheim added.

Altmaier after talks with both the wind industry and anti-wind groups in October 2019 unexpectedly had proposed the Germany-wide 1km distance rule as part of a wider climate package, but the government later withdrew the proposal to allow for further discussions.

The plan for the measure had led to an outcry by the wind sector as such a rule could reduce areas available for onshore wind by 20-50%, according to calculations published in early 2019 by Germany’s environmental agency UBA.

So far, an onshore wind distance rule only exists in Bavaria, Germany’s largest state by territory, where it has brought new wind developments to a near-standstill.

The move to soften the plan for a distance rule came after Altmaier’s and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) last Sunday suffered a bitter defeat in elections for the city-state of Hamburg, where the Social Democrats and their Green coalition partner triumphed.

The rising Greens, which doubled their vote in Hamburg to 24.2% (compared to the CDU’s 11.2%), are rivalling the CDU in Germany-wide opinion polls for the number 1 spot, and like the Fridays for Future student climate activist movement demand much more ambitious climate policies and a faster build-up of renewables such as wind power.

The ministry spokeswoman also said that the government plans a coordination mechanism between the federal and state governments in order to reach its target of a 65%-share of renewables in Germany’s power mix by 2030.

Renewable groups have repeatedly said that the 65% target cannot be reached if a distance rule is imposed, and current impediments were to persist to the expansion of wind power posed by a permitting bottleneck and out-of-control law suits by anti-wind groups and environmentalists.