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14 Oct 2020, 14:44
Benjamin Wehrmann

Germany's old wind turbines will be given new lifelines at end of 20-year support

Clean Energy Wire

Germany will try to retain most of its wind power capacity that will lose its guaranteed remuneration after dropping out of the 20-year feed-in tariff support scheme from next year on. Economy minister Peter Altmaier said a strategy that combines the so-called repowering of older turbines with newer models at the same location and the power purchase agreements (PPAs) that allow companies to directly source their electricity from old wind farms would be used to keep as much capacity in operation as possible. Germany is aiming to increase the share of renewables in power consumption, which rose to around 50 percent this year, to 65 percent by 2030 and is struggling to keep expansion at pace, which is why it can ill afford losing turbines that have already been built. Old turbines still receive comparatively high feed-in tariffs that were agreed in the early 2000s, but rates have since dropped considerably due to technological progress. Tariffs will run out for 4 gigawatts (GW) of onshore wind power alone on 1 January 2021, followed by another 2.3- 2.4 GW each year until 2025 (total of 16 GW).

Altmaier said a "considerable" number of turbines is poised to drop out of the support scheme in the next years. "We want to continue to exploit and also expand these installations' potential," Altmaier said after a meeting with ministers from Germany's federal states responsible for the energy transition. "There has been a clear consensus that allowing a continued operation of old installations makes sense," he said, adding that repowering would also make it possible to increase the output and efficiency of wind power installations without using more space. Altmaier said that the regulatory framework regarding turbine heights and minimum distance from residential areas should be revisited to enable the modernisation of existing installations, which could then receive today's lower tariffs. Where repowering is not possible, PPAs or direct marketing of wind power should be the option of choice. A comprehensive solution should be found before the end of the year "so that we can focus on the truly important aspects of the energy transition," the minister said.

Olaf Lies, the environment minister of Germany's number one wind power state, Lower Saxony, called for a "reliable" continuation of support for old installations. "Continued use of wind turbines means climate action and climate action costs money," Lies argued. He said the talks with the federal government had "opened a way" to keep existing turbine capacity operational. However, he stressed that finding ways to stop old renewable power capacity from dropping out of the production mix should not obscure the more urgent task of building new and additional capacity. "A consistent expansion is the most important thing," Lies said, pointing out that huge amounts of wind power projects that had already received a license were still held up in courts due to other regulatory or legal issues, including lawsuits filed by protest groups.

Lower Saxony had repeatedly criticised the federal government in the past for failing to take concrete steps to revive the ailing wind power expansion, which often was held back by licensing issues and local protests. Even though the expansion deadlock appeared to have eased in the past few months, Lies said efforts to speed up consistent expansion should not be curbed. Regarding the continued operation of older installations, Lies said low wholesale power prices and an insufficiently high CO2 price in the European emissions trading system (ETS) still made independent economic viability tricky for many turbine projects. However, he added that there is ample reason to be optimistic that PPAs and other forms of direct renewable power will make economic sense as carbon and wholesale power prices go up.

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