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Germany may further limit onshore build-out in windy north

Network congestion cited as reason for draft proposal, yet BNetzA also plans to scale back power-line projects designed to reduce grid bottlenecks

Germany’s Federal Network Agency (BNetzA) has proposed to further limit the construction of new onshore wind turbines in windy northern parts of the country due to grid congestion, while at the same time suggesting that some transmission line projects that might alleviate bottlenecks should be scrapped or scaled back.

This threat to the onshore wind expansion in Germany’s windiest areas comes as the sector has drawn to a near standstill amid a permitting malaise. Only 287MW were added during the first half of 2019, the lowest half-year figure since 2000 in what was previously Europe’s leading onshore wind market.

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BNetzA has drawn up a draft proposal to reduce annual onshore wind installations in Germany's strongest wind areas, close to the North and Baltic Seas, to 786MW, down from the 902MW in the 2017 reform of the country's Renewable Energy Act (EEG), according to several German media outlets. It also suggests extending the so-called "grid-expansion area" to the entire state of Lower Saxony, which extends into central Germany.

A BNetzA spokesman told Recharge that while a system review indicated worsening grid bottlenecks in Lower Saxony, it also found that Mecklenburg-Vorpommern state — further east, on the Baltic coast — may no longer need restrictions.

The draft will now be discussed on a ministerial level, and by year-end is slated to be brought to parliament.

BNetzA also suggested cancelling some power-line projects that had been envisaged to remedy the grid congestion, such as a fourth so-called transmission super highway from the north to the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg, which borders Switzerland.

BNetzA vice-president Peter Franke said it would be sufficient for that high-voltage direct current (HVDC) line to instead end in the industrial state of North Rhine Westphalia, on the Belgian border, without being extended further south.

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The torturously slow progress in the planning and construction of the North-South HVDC lines has been a major reason for grid bottlenecks and a throttling of the wind expansion in northern Germany and offshore.

Germany’s Renewable Energy Federation (BEE) sharply criticised the lacklustre grid expansion plans.

This is a “bad signal”, BEE president Simone Peter said. “Particularly as BNetzA, just a day earlier, had announced to tighten the expansion cap for wind energy with the argument that there aren’t enough power lines available.”

Germany’s patchwork renewables and climate policy is increasingly under attack from the Green Party opposition, of which Peter is a former leader, as well as from climate activists.

Energy minister Peter Altmaier plans to hold a crisis meeting to discuss the collapse of the onshore wind expansion after the parliamentary summer recess, but the government so far hasn’t made any coherent proposals on how to remedy the situation.

Teen climate activists from the growing Fridays for Future movement have called for a general strike on September 20 — the same day Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for proposals to be presented in her so-called "climate cabinet". The strike has already been endorsed by Frank Bsirske, the head of the country’s powerful public workers union, Ver.di.

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