Dhe history of wind power in Germany is also a history of political aversion to conflict and short-sightedness. For years, the federal government has stated that there will be a significant increase in demand for wind energy and has called for more systems. At the same time, it enabled the federal states to circumvent the expansion targets. The governments were happy to make use of the loopholes, for example in the form of distance rules for wind turbines. No local politician or member of the state parliament is keen on public protests against wind farms in sight. And the citizens quickly learned that those who fight back the hardest are the most likely to be spared.
Some state governments copied the strategy of potentially affected residents, above all the Bavarian one. Instead of defining expansion targets and ensuring that they are realised, the most well-known nationwide initiative against wind power was formed in the Munich State Chancellery in 2014. The 10-H rule devised by the CSU, according to which the minimum distance to residential buildings must be ten times the height of a facility, was and is an expression of political cowardice.
However, the consequences of this decision were not limited to Bavaria. The CSU has undermined the legitimacy of the energy transition as a whole. Why does a citizen in Westphalia have to put up with a wind turbine in the nearby forest, while someone in Upper Bavaria is spared?
Nevertheless, Prime Minister Markus Söder recently announced that Bavaria will be climate-neutral by 2040, five years earlier than the federal government. He is likely to be guided by the hope that the CSU could reappear as a progressive party thanks to stricter climate targets. But getting there is likely to face numerous obstacles, not least elections.
Campaigning for what they missed
According to this logic, the grand coalition has also announced a lot and done far too little to achieve it until the end. When the expansion of wind power stalled more and more, the countries were asked to talk. Although all those involved expressed their good will, little changed afterwards. The irony of history: during the election campaign, the Union and the SPD campaigned for what they had neglected to do for years. Namely, to standardize planning law and species protection regulations in order to simplify and speed up approval procedures.
The fact that the traffic light coalition now wants to tackle these reforms is long overdue. Decentralized wind power is a prerequisite for following the path to climate neutrality. Also against the background of missing power lines or only to be completed with a long delay, it is illusory to believe that it is enough if the wheels are turning in the north.
Administrative courts had to answer political questions
The federal government now wants to reserve two percent of the area nationwide for wind power. In addition to more solar energy, that much is needed to even come close to covering future electricity requirements. It is important that there is such a requirement. Because when weighing up the energy transition on the one hand and the protection of species and nature as well as the demands of local residents on the other, the importance of the energy supply must be clear. So far, administrative courts have decided on the actually political question of how much wind power makes sense – and made the planning process more difficult with a large number of judgments. That needs to change.
In addition to the coastal state of Schleswig-Holstein, where the energy industry is of great importance, only Hesse, with 1.9 percent of the state area, comes close to the two percent target. This success has a lot to do with a compromise that the black and yellow state government initiated in 2011. Due to the protests against wind energy in many places, but also within the governing CDU, Prime Minister Volker Bouffier called for an energy summit in which all parties as well as environmental and business associations, trade unions and representatives of the municipalities took part.
The agreement reached at that time was a clear commitment to the expansion of wind power. In 2012, the first Renewable Energy Sources Act came into force, which above all made it binding. Even if things continued to crunch in the densely populated south of the state, Hesse has made much more progress over the years than most states – including Baden-Württemberg, which has been governed by the Greens since 2011. The fact that the expansion figures in Hesse, as recently, fell almost everywhere was due to the confused planning law.
It is time for as many state governments as possible to follow the ten-year-old example of Hesse. The necessary mediation and deliberation processes cannot be controlled from Berlin. In a federal state, it is the task of the state governments to assume responsibility locally and to work towards the broadest possible consensus. Even if it doesn’t necessarily make you popular.