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German plan to pay local people living near potential wind farms sparks debate

A proposal in Germany to introduce direct financial compensation for people who live near the sites of potential wind farms, in an effort to get communities behind new developments, has spurred debate in the country, which has seen activity in its onshore wind sector slow down in recent years.

The Social Democrat Party, or SPD, the junior partner in Germany's coalition government, has floated the idea of so-called "wind citizens' money" for locals as one of several options to boost acceptance of wind farms. "The SPD wants to see those who accept wind turbines in their neighborhood and thereby allow for the expansion of renewable energy rewarded," Matthias Miersch, the SPD's environment spokesperson, told local German newspaper Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung on Jan. 2.

A series of options at federal and state level will be discussed in a working group, he said, such as financial contributions to municipalities and direct cash flow to affected locals.

But the German Association of Towns and Municipalities dismissed the proposal of direct financial contributions for local people. "Those who want the energy system transformed need to accept certain things, without compensation," said the organization's president Uwe Brandl at a press conference in Berlin on Jan. 3, news agency DPA reported.

Brandl called for an "anti-nimby" — or "not-in-my-backyard" — movement. Politicians, he argued, need to instill a sense of collective responsibility for achieving climate targets. He also voiced concerns that compensation for wind farms could lead to calls for similar incentives for other infrastructure projects in the future.

'Charming' idea

A spokesman for the German onshore wind association BWE said in a Jan. 6 interview that the idea of wind citizens' money was "quite charming" and chimed with some of the group's own lobbying efforts for broadening public acceptance of onshore wind in Germany, such as injecting a share of profits into local community ventures.

In northern Germany, where owning shares in wind farms is already relatively widespread, the acceptance among the local population is high, he said. There are socio-economic factors to consider, too, such as the generally lower household incomes in eastern Germany, which act as a barrier to buy-in and result in lower acceptance rates for wind farms.

But the BWE spokesman stressed that any financial compensation measures for locals need to be coupled with an improved approval process, which provides legislative security to developers. "The [Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy] needs to implement its action plan quickly," he said.

The Ministry wrote itself a to-do list in October 2019, including steps for streamlining the regulatory process. In 2020, it aims to "limit the delaying effect of legal challenges and opposition to the approval of wind farms" and speed up the process for obtaining environmental permits, among other points.

Climate package

Chancellor Angela Merkel's climate cabinet had laid out its plans for renewables policy in September 2019 as part of a comprehensive climate package. The bulk of that legislation, including lower VAT on rail tickets and a CO2 price for fuel, were passed in December. But discussion around the way forward for renewables has not yet resulted in agreement, and will be spun out into separate legislation in the first quarter of 2020.

The September draft included a "regionalization bonus" to help distribute wind farms more evenly across the country. A 1,000-meter minimum distance requirement for all turbines was also proposed, sparking protest from developers. Communes would be able to opt out of that requirement in return for higher financial contributions to the wind farms' operation cost.