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20 Sep 2018, 18:33
Kerstine Appunn

Germany sets deadline for grid expansion plans

Citizen protests and farmers' demands are threatening to delay Germany's electricity network expansion, needed for the energy transition. Photo: Pixabay.
Citizen protests and farmers' demands are threatening to delay Germany's electricity network expansion, needed for the energy transition. Photo: Pixabay.

Energy minister Peter Altmaier has announced new plans to accelerate the expansion of Germany’s power grid, which is behind schedule but vital to the growth of renewable power production. The majority of new connections could be approved by 2021 if critical projects are prioritised and planning procedures streamlined, he said.

Germany’s federal energy minister Peter Altmaier and his counterparts from the 16 states want to see firm permits in place for a majority of power grid connections by the end of 2021, the minister said following a grid summit in Berlin on Thursday.

“Germany’s grid expansion is a marathon – and we don’t just want to complete it but also finish in good time,” Altmaier said.

In August, Altmaier published his Power Grid Action Plan, aimed at tackling grid congestions in Germany and part of an effort to streamline the further expansion of Germany’s high voltage power grid, which has been held up for years due to citizen protests and quarrels between states over where new cables should run.

In 2017, bottlenecks resulted in 1.4 billion euros in grid-stabilising costs, and grid operators were forced to shut down wind turbines in the event of high winds in the north and east of the country to balance the grid.

When the current government came into power earlier this year, it therefore made further expansion of renewable power sources contingent on the power grid's capacity to actually transport this additional electricity. This puts the grid issue at the centre of Germany’s energy transition – the phase-out of nuclear and fossil fuels and switch to an energy system largely based on renewables.

Altmaier is aiming for the Federal Network Agency (BNetzA) to approve new north-south connections by the end of 2021, a few months after the next scheduled federal election. A reform of the Network Expansion Acceleration Act would speed up the planning proces and allow the start of building before the last part of the line has received permission, Altmaier said. If everything goes according to plan, these high-voltage-direct-current (HVDC) lines could be completed by 2025.

Green Party MP Ingrid Nestle said that accelerating the grid expansion shouldn’t be the only focus of the administration. “We finally need good solutions for using renewable power where it is generated and before it flows into congested grids – we need to make this power usable in the heating and transport sectors,” she said.

Of the 7,700 kilometres of power lines that have to be either refurbished (around 3,050 km) or newly constructed (around 4,650 km), 1,750 kilometres have received planning permission and 950 kilometres have been built, the Federal Network Agency’s figures show.

Bringing citizens on board – but not at any price

Altmaier stressed that he would pay particular attention to those parts of the grid where citizens opposed the expansion, since only solving these problems would ensure a fast planning procedure for future lines.

Lower Saxony’s energy minister Olaf Lies (SPD) said that while this was a good approach, at the same time a clear message had to be given to people: “We need the grid expansion for the energy transition and we can’t put every cable underground.”

Meanwhile, industry associations BDEW and DIHK are concerned that pleasing every citizen and land owner in the process could increase costs for the network expansion.

Farmers in particular have been asking for recurring payments instead of a one-off compensation if they have grid pylons or cables placed on their land.

Baden-Württemberg energy and climate minister Franz Untersteller (Green Party) added that allowing for such recurring payments would “open a pandora’s box” and set a precedent for other infrastructure projects.

Minister Altmaier said that while he would continue talks with the farmers, the current compensation rules did not allow for such payments.

The minister’s next grid expansion tour will take him to the southern states of Thuringia, Hesse and Bavaria, he announced. Hesse and Thuringia are at odds over the route of the Suedlink HVDC-line, which neither state wants crossing its territory.

For background on Germany's energy transition and the grid expansion see this dossier.

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