21 May 2019, 13:26
Benjamin Wehrmann

Wind power gut issue in eastern German regional elections

Tagesspiegel Background

The expansion of onshore wind power capacities is turning into a highly controversial issue for the regional elections in the three eastern German states Thuringia, Brandenburg and Saxony, which will elect new state parliaments this autumn, Christian Schaudwet writes in energy and climate policy newsletter Tagesspiegel Background. Resistance by local residents against new wind farms is rife and fuelled by anti-energy transition rhetoric from the far-right party AfD, which has found an easily exploitable issue in wind power.  The issue is simple to oppose from a local perspective but more difficult to justify as this requires understanding the construction of wind farms in a greater scheme of climate action, Schaudwet says. Although various surveys have revealed that about 60 percent of residents are in favour of continued wind power expansion, the number of new turbines built has dropped to the lowest level in almost two decades in Germany in 2019. Lengthy licensing procedures, tight regulation standards and numerous appeals by resistance groups curtail expansion and often prevent efficient repowering of existing locations, he writes. A major flaw is that many municipalities and local residents in eastern Germany often cannot reap substantial economic benefits from turbines built in their home regions as these are owned by non-local agricultural businesses. These and other objections are supposed to be addressed by regional wind power helpdesks. Like the EU-supported project Winwind, these are aimed at improving acceptance and ensuring that expansion is not brought to a halt.

Climate and energy policy is set to play a key role in the elections in eastern Germany, which are also affected by the country’s plans to end coal-fired power production over roughly the next two decades. Economically weak regions in the east, in particular mining region Lusatia, still very much depend on coal as a source of income and jobs and the AfD is exploiting anti-government sentiments to discredit the fossil fuel phase-out and expansion of renewables as imposed ordeals. However, energy transition technology is also widespread in eastern states and a growing industry for many municipalities. Voters in eastern German lignite states will also head to the polls for local elections this weekend, on the same day as the European Parliament vote (26 May).

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