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Resistance Mounts to Germany’s Ambitious Renewable Energy Plans

The German government plans to replace nuclear reactors with thousands of wind turbines and thousands of kilometers of high-voltage “monster masts” in a move that will deface vast swathes of territory. Germans, though desperate to phase out atomic energy, are gearing up to protest against the green revolution.

Germany regards nuclear power as unacceptably risky and has embarked on a plan to phase it out as soon as possible. The U-turn on nuclear policy Chancellor Angela Merkel announced last month following the Fukushima accident will involve a massive expansion of renewable energies — as rapidly as possible.

She is giving the public what it wants. But the shift will nevertheless provoke a major backlash. Germans may love their green energy, but that also have a growing proclivity towards not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) lawsuits and referenda.

The trigger is likely to be a master energy plan the federal government is currently hammering out following the closure of seven older nuclear power plants in the wake of Fukushima. Environment Minister Röttgen and German Economics Minister Rainer Brüderle of the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP) have already presented “six points for an accelerated energy turnaround.” It provides a foretaste of the conflict Germany is steering towards.

Wind Turbines über Alles

To reach its goals of a nuclear-free Germany, Merkel’s government now plans to dot all parts of the country with massive wind turbines as well as high-voltage power masts needed to create a modern smart grid to transport the electricity supply from the windy north to the southern part of the country. A €5-billion ($7.25 billion) special program to expand wind parks in the North and Baltic seas will be launched this autumn. Central to the program, Brüderle and Röttgen write, would be a “joint initiative by the federal government and the regional states to identify suitable locations for wind power facilities.” Obstacles to planning approval such as restrictions on the height and spacing of the turbines “will be removed,” the paper says.

The message is that Merkel’s government won’t tolerate opposition to its plans. Officials in Brüderle’s ministry are drafting legislation to speed up the expansion of the renewable energy network. The paper states that the switch to renewables “won’t come free of charge.”

Merkel’s government, once a friend to the nuclear industry, has done a 180-degree turn. And now the conservatives want to be at the forefront of the move into renewables. A study by the Fraunhofer Institute says there is suitable space for wind turbines all over Germany, not just in the northern states where many have already been built.

And in southern Germany, conservative Bavarian state Environment Minister Markus Söder wants to overtake neighboring Baden-Württemberg, which will soon be home to the country’s first Green Party governor, in a race to expand renewable energies. The Bavarian politician says he wants to double the number of wind turbines in his state and to quadruple the output of wind power.

Those are the requirements of the current zeitgeist, say the green revolutionaries in Merkel’s center-right coalition. They have public opinion behind them: More than 80 percent of Germans want to see the country abandon nuclear energy. But there is one major caveat: When it comes to major energy projects, most Germans do not want them in their own backyard. Just as soon as plans are unveiled for mass wind turbines near residential areas, home owners and locals are quick to organize local campaigns to halt construction.

Will Clean Energy Be a Blight to Picturesque Germany?

Many are now asking themselves if the transition to renewable energies will ruin the nation’s countryside. The German Wind Energy Association (BWE) states that 21,607 high-tech wind turbines are already in place in Germany. Some fear that the zeal to install wind turbines mirrors the drive to build motorways into West German towns in the 1960s. That was regarded as ultra-modern at the time, but it created massive, irreversible eyesores.

Germany’s Federal Agency for Nature Conservation is already warning that in the rush to expand renewable energies, nature and wildlife conservation is being put on the back burner. The need to get out of nuclear power seems to be overriding all other concerns.

Germany’s opposition to wind power is well organized. The website (wind power opponents), lists more than 70 protest campaigns. They seem every bit as dogged as Merkel’s government.

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