Germany’s federal government after months of bickering within the left-right coalition will allow states in an ‘opt-in’ procedure to decide themselves whether to introduce a 1km minimum distance between new wind projects and the nearest settlement.

Berlin will also scrap a cap on solar support that would have kicked in once the country’s cumulative PV capacity has reached 52GW, which is expected in coming weeks.

The end to the solar support cap was only possible after an agreement was reached on the wind distance rule. Members of parliament of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) had blocked the measure until an agreement on wind was reached with the coalition partner from the Social Democrats (SPD).

“It took a while until the parliamentary groups have brought their points of view into line,” economics and energy minister Peter Altmaier said at a press briefing.

“What we have achieved guarantees that the expansion of wind power and reaching climate policy targets will be done in a consensus.”

Altmaier alleges that a larger distance to future wind projects will increase acceptance among local residents, who increasingly are protesting against wind power in not-in-my-backyard groups. Opinion polls, however, have consistently shown that support for wind power is highest in places that already have operational wind farms.

It will be up to German states to determine how big a settlement needs to be to count for the wind distance rule.

So far, only the state of Bavaria has a distance rule that lays down that wind farms need to be built at ten times the distance of the tip height of a wind turbine. The rule has brought new wind projects to a near standstill in the state, which is Germany’s largest by landmass.

The Bavarian rule will be left untouched, although other states in accordance with the 1km-proposal can’t impose distances as large as stipulate by the Bavarian rule. As new turbines tend to be higher, the Bavarian rule comes down to a minimum distance of around 2kms.

The interior ministry will need to work out how the opt-in clause for the distance rule will be worked into national law.

Renewables sector relieved

The renewable energy sector was cautiously optimistic about the agreement regarding the wind distance rule and the end to the solar support cap.

"Finally the grand coalition has cut the gordian knot and ended the standstill of several energy policy issues. The agreement is an overdue signal for all companies that want to invest in future technologies," said Simone Peter, president of the federal renewables association (BEE).

"The sector can live with the compromise on the expansion of wind on land. Instead of a rigid rule, states get enough range to accelerate the build-up again."

It is unclear how many states are willing to introduce a distance rule. In recent years, some states had discussed introducing it, among them North Rhine Westphalia, Germany's most populous state.

If applied nation-wide, a distance rule could have reduced areas available for onshore wind by 20-50%, according to calculations published in 2019 by Germany’s environmental agency UBA.

VDMA Power Systems, a group representing wind turbine manufacturers, said it hopes that individual German states will use the agreement to contribute to climate targets and keep their economies competitive.

"Not only since the establishment of Tesla it is known that renewable energies are increasingly bringing locational advantages," VDMA Power Systems managing director Matthias Zelinger said.

Tesla last year had announced to build a new 'giga factory' near Berlin, but already in the state of Brandenburg, which has a high share of renewable energy output.

But Zelinger also urged the government to live up to its promise to create a coordination mechanism to reach its target of 65% renewables in Germany's power mix by 2030.

UPDATED with comment from the renewable energy sector