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Last Updated: Monday, 29 September, 2003, 11:11 GMT 12:11 UK
Germany begins to turn against wind

By Ray Furlong
BBC Berlin correspondent

Noisy, ugly and a danger to bird life?

Wherever you drive in Germany, you can't miss them.

White, gleaming and towering over the landscape - windmills are a tangible symbol of this country's commitment to environmentally-friendly energy.

Germany is the world's biggest producer of wind power. Its 14,000 generators account for a third of world output.

The sector has benefited massively from the Green Party being a member of the government since 1998. In particular, a special law forces utility companies to buy electricity provided by renewable energy sources even though it's much more expensive.

But a wind of change may soon be blowing. The Economy Minister, Wolfgang Clement, recently suggested that support for the sector should be reduced in order to avoid a "subsidy mentality".

He has some powerful support. Trade unions are concerned that more wind energy will cut jobs in the coal industry, and Germany's main energy companies are also critical.

Greens attack wind

"It's certain that the burden on consumers has risen because of the economic support for renewable energies," says Peter Poppe, spokesman for Vattenfall Europe - Germany's third biggest power utility.

No-one mentions that coal gets subsidies, as does nuclear power
Peter Ahmels, German Wind Energy Association
"This support needs to be reduced. What was originally intended as start-up finance for the sector has turned into a bottomless pit of money."

The wind sector has even come under attack from an unexpected source. Environmentalists have attacked plans for Germany's first offshore wind park, due to be constructed in the North Sea in 2005.

They say the windmills are noisy, ugly and a danger to bird life.

The wind energy industry is now hitting back. At its Husumwind trade fair 23-27 September more than 450 exhibitors presented the latest in wind power technology.

Offshore windmills were among the main attractions - including proposals for the world's largest wind turbine with a five megawatt capacity.

"I think the only way to get energy in the future is to have renewable energies. Because of CO2 emissions, greenhouse gases, and so on, I think we as a sector are at the beginning," says Peter Ahmels, President of German Wind Energy Association (BWE).

Coal lobby

The BWE also points out that 45,000 jobs rely on the sector, and says that some kind of support is needed for another 10 years before it can become self-sufficient.

"Mr Clement's proposals are unrealistic," says Mr Ahmels. "It leaves me speechless. No-one mentions that coal gets subsidies, as does nuclear power."

Some point to Mr Clement's background in North-Rhine Westphalia state, home to Germany's powerful coal lobby, and argue that he is working in its interests.

And the battle has also been fought within the German cabinet. The Environment Minister, Juergen Trittin, wants wind power to provide 20% of this country's electricity needs by 2020 - requiring further expansion of the sector.

When the Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, chaired an energy summit with all parties earlier this month, it was all smiles afterwards. Although agreement was reached on various issues - the question of support for wind power was, apparently, left for another time.

But with the government committed to closing all its nuclear power stations within the next two decades, it must decide soon where it wants to get its energy from.


SEE ALSO:
Germany boosts wind power
16 Jan 02  |  Europe
Ireland takes wind power plunge
11 Jan 02  |  Science/Nature


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