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20 Nov 2020, 13:50
Benjamin Wehrmann

German industry welcomes EU offshore wind plans, but environmental concerns remain

Clean Energy Wire

The plans by the European Commission to significantly ramp up renewable energy generation at sea have been mostly welcomed by German policymakers and industry as a major contribution to emissions reduction plans, but concerns about the impact on marine ecosystems remain. The commission's offshore strategy unveiled on Thursday 19 November says that Europe should install up to 300 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind power and 40 GW of other marine renewable technology by 2050. For offshore wind power, this would mean a 25-fold capacity increase compared to the current level of 12 GW. To this end, the commission has vowed to improve cooperation between member states in spatial and grid planning, in research and development and in establishing European production chains.

Economy minister Peter Altmaier said offshore wind and cross-border projects can play a key role on the path to a climate-neutral Europe and called for a further easing of regulation to freely trade wind power among countries in the region. "There's still a lot to do in this respect," Altmaier said, adding the strategy offers a "good starting point" for further discussions. 

German offshore wind association BWO said the EU strategy puts offshore wind at the heart of its green power plans, arguing that the technology could become Europe's primary source of electricity as early as 2040. "The challenges posed by offshore wind power cannot be solved on the national level in the long run," said BWO head Stefan Thimm, stressing that coordinated European planning will be the only way to really unlock offshore wind's full potential.

Environmental organisation NABU offered a more critical take on the expansion wave, arguing that marine ecosystem protection played a minor role in the plans to boost the construction of offshore wind turbines and tidal and wave energy plants. "The EU Commission is ignoring its own environmental protection targets with the new offshore strategy," NABU head Jörg-Andreas Krüger argued. He said protecting marine habitats made a contribution to climate action itself by maintaining the capacity of ecosystems to absorb carbon dioxide and protecting coastlines against erosion. "Zones with 50 percent unused space offer real shelter for endangered species and are the key to an energy transition that is compatible with the environment," Krüger said.

Kerstin Andreae, head of energy industry association BDEW, said the potential for producing renewable power off European shores must not lay idle in the effort to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, arguing that studies had shown that even more offshore wind power capacity could be built. "The interim target of 60 GW offshore wind by 2030 must be seen as a minimum," Andreae said. She argued offshore wind farms actually can be a boon for local ecosystems that get a break from marine traffic and fishing in these areas.

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