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Germans have lost passion for onshore wind, energy minister says

From staunch support to "not-in-my-backyard," Germans have changed their minds about onshore wind turbines, and the current sentiment in the country suggests the technology no longer enjoys widespread acceptance, Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy Peter Altmaier said on Jan. 21.

Eight years ago, when Altmaier was Germany's environment minister, "solar energy was very expensive, and wind power relatively cheap," he said at the Handelsblatt Energy Summit in Berlin. "Many [people] told me then that support for solar should be shelved, and all focus shifted to onshore and offshore wind," the minister added.

Altmaier told the conference that this perception among many Germans had changed. More support is now behind cheaper solar power, while social acceptance for wind power is low. While not everybody in the country is opposed, "everywhere where wind farms are being built, we now see five or six times more opposition groups than back then," he said.

This vocal opposition is causing delays in local permitting processes, which in turn has slowed the expansion of Germany's onshore wind fleet, Altmaier said, adding that this was outside the federal government's remit.

That said, the deployment rate could increase when adjustments are made to the rules around the proximity of turbines to radio and flight safety infrastructure, to bring them more in line with European standards, Altmaier added. This will presumably be in new renewables legislation set to be presented in the first quarter of the year.

Like 'open-heart surgery'

While the current 52-GW cap on subsidies for solar projects is likely to be lifted in the upcoming legislation, other distance requirements for onshore wind turbines in relation to the nearest settlement are set to become reality, too. Altmaier said it is crucial to listen to concerns and strike a consensus on the energy transition — a process akin to "open-heart surgery" on the country.

As a result of the slowdown in onshore wind installations, the German government is frequently confronted with the prospect of tens of thousands of job losses in the wind industry. But Altmaier rejected a connection with federal government policy.

"German companies like Enercon GmbH, Siemens AG and others have moved parts of their operations abroad to improve their market positioning," the minister said. "Car manufacturers have been doing the same — it is a process that has nothing to do with the situation [of onshore wind] in Germany."

Annalena Baerbock, chairwoman of the Green party, told the Handelsblatt conference that many of the complaints made against onshore wind farms on conservationist grounds were a pretext for local people's mounting opposition. She dismissed the suggestion by the cogoverning SPD party to pay citizens living next to wind farms in exchange for accepting the infrastructure, saying the incentives should go to local councils instead.

Meanwhile, Johannes Teyssen, CEO of utility E.ON SE, said a successful transition to low-carbon energy sources requires a chance in mindset, starting with people being convinced about the benefits of lower-emissions living and the importance of making changes. That, Teyssen argued, would make acceptance more likely.

People should also not be able to "tire themselves out" through several rounds of litigation for every project instead of being excited about the benefits of renewables, the CEO said. "We need a new approval and litigation process," he said. If a sense of passion for a new low-carbon system can be sparked, "that is a true Alternative for Germany."