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German cabinet deals body blow to onshore wind growth

Climate package foresees 1km distance rule and limits additions to a maximum of 1.5GW a year on average

The cabinet of Chancellor Angela Merkel has approved a climate protection package that while reaffirming a target of 65% of renewables in Germany’s power mix by 2030 details drastic limitations to the expansion of onshore wind.

The 173-page-long ‘2030 climate protection programme of the Federal Government for the realisation of the 2050 climate protection plan’ foresees a country-wide introduction of a minimum distance of 1km between new wind farms and settlements.

Such a rule could reduce areas available for onshore wind by 20-50%, according to calculations published earlier this year by Germany’s environmental agency UBA.

Individual German states within 18 months of the rule coming into force have the right to opt out, however, and municipalities can enact shorter minimum distances. An already existing distance rule in Bavaria of ten times the tip height will remain in place.

Energy groups were dismayed by the climate package now approved by the cabinet.

“The 65%-goal for the renewables expansion can hardly be reached with the proposals from the climate package,” said Stefan Kapferer, chairman of the German federation of water and energy industries (BDEW).

“The dysfunctional steering becomes particularly clear for wind turbines on land – instead of reducing impediments, the expansion will actually be made more difficult through general distance rules.”

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The climate package also includes 2030 targets for the major renewable energy sources.

For onshore wind, the government now envisages to reach a cumulated installed capacity of 67-71GW by that date, up from 53.1GW at the end of the first half of 2019.

As German wind groups expect onshore wind installations of no more than 1.5GW this year that means that even at the upper limit of the 2030 target, the country wouldn’t add more than 1.5GW on average in the years from 2020 to 2030.

That is a far cry from installation figures of an average of 4.6GW still seen in the years 2014 to 2017 in what was then Europe’s largest onshore wind market.

Germany’s renewable energy federation (BEE) also said the country won’t reach its 2030 renewable energy target with the climate package in its current version.

“Adding up the various renewable energy sources in the programme would result in a power consumption for 2030 that is about 2-4% lower than today. That is unrealistic,” said BEE president Simone Peter.

Electricity consumption is actually likely to go up as more power will be needed for sector coupling, hydrogen applications and the increased electrification of transport, she added.

“Efficiency gains won’t be able to cushion off that.”

The climate programme also sets a 2030 target for PV at 98GW, for offshore wind at 20GW (instead of the 15GW envisaged so far), for biomass at 8.4GW, and for hydroelectric power at 6GW.

On the upside, the climate package states that impediments to the onshore wind expansion in planning and permitting must end, repowering supported, and community energy strengthened. It also demands that nature conservation and permits for wind developments should be better harmonised.

It was unclear, though, how such measures would be put into practice.

The cabinet also gave the green light for a climate protection law that sets binding annual CO2 emission limits for each sector of the economy, which will be monitored each year.

Environment minister Svenja Schulze said: "In the future, there will be clear rules on what happens if one sector deviates from the agreed climate course ... With that, we are learning from the mistakes of the past. It mustn't happen again that Germany fails to reach its climate target."

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