Green Or Gone

Renewable Revolution, How Wind Energy Took Root In Germany

Eco-friendly national legislation and hard work on the local level has made it possible for wind farms to blossom throughout Germany. But it's not without costs.

More than 28,000 wind turbines have already been installed in Germany
Stéphane Bussard

AHLERSTEDT — An hour southwest of Hamburg, the horizon appears endless. Around the small villages of Wohnste and Ahlerstedt, the land is spotted with small farms, pig pens and fields of corn, potatoes and grains. Suddenly, gigantic towers appear, rising up into the sky, dictating the tempo of life in this corner of northern Germany.

Jan Ehlen, 46, is proud: He and four others manage this wind farm of 23 turbines and 52 megawatts for the Awomo company. "It runs in the family," he says. "My father Helmut used to produce energy using peat in the neighboring village of Ahrensmoor. He took advantage of new legislation to invest in wind turbines. The first wind farm here was built in 1999."

An engineer and economist who used to work for Airbus, Ehlen set up his office in an opulent-looking house near the entrance of Ahlerstedt, 5,300 inhabitants, in the state of Lower Saxony. On his computer he monitors the wind farm in real time: the turbines' operating speed, production (about 120 million kilowatt-hours per year) and, more importantly, the amount of carbon dioxide emissions spared. According to him, that figure already stands at 1.8 million tons.

For Ehlen, Germany's energy transition makes complete sense. Between 1998 and 2005, the Socialist-Green coalition government led by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and vice-Chancellor Joschka Fischer passed legislation to massively develop renewable energy and to fight against climate change. Under the legislation, the share of renewable energy in nationwide energy production is supposed to reach 35% by 2020, before climbing to 45% by 2025 and 60% by 2035.

Since then, wind farms have been sprouting all over the country, particularly in the north. "With this energy dynamic, it's not only the big energy groups, the oligopolies, that can benefit. Citizens can also get involved. The investment possibilities in renewable energy are a good thing for the middle class," Ehlen says.

Some see the energy transition as an act of democratization of energy production. In Ahlerstedt and Wohnste, 35 local landowners, or as Ehlen says, "35 families," joined forces to invest together in what the Germans call a Bürgerwindpark (citizen wind farm), to create the company Awomo. Almost all of them live in the two villages. "We built the turbines with the help of the industry giant Enercon, but we take care of the rest: managing surface rights, building rights, exploitation, modernization, etc."

Wind farms have been sprouting all over the country, particularly in the north — Photo: Julian Stratenschulte/DPA/ZUMA

Citizen wind farms abound in this region. Ehlen manages another one that involves 42 families. But there are hurdles to establishing the farms."We talked with the locals, to tell them exactly what it was about. They were all able to express their opinions, which we included in our reflection." There was even a vote in Wohnste, where 800 inhabitants live, says the current mayor, Hans-Dieter Klindworth. "The result was 55% in favor of the wind farm, 45% against. At the time, people were worried that such a project would bring down the value of their homes. This fear didn't materialize. Now, 90% of those who were initially opposed to the farm have toned it down."

Standing at the foot of one of these giant wind turbines, Ehlen says some of the locals had complained about the noise. Three turbines were too noisy because of a manufacturing defect. Other villagers were not happy about the infrasound produced by the turbines. But the engineer has an answer for everything. "When you drive with your car windows open or when you listen to the sound of the waves at the beach, you're exposed to more infrasound than near a wind farm." Wind turbines must be at least 1,000 meters away from people's houses and the noise must remain below 45 decibels.

And the villagers reap fiscal benefits thanks to the wind farms, says Klindworth, the mayor of Wohnste. The professional tax paid by the wind farms goes entirely back into the village coffers, as well as 15% of the profits. "We've also created a foundation that partly finances day-care centers, firefighters, and wheelchairs," Ehlen says.

Technological progress has also made it possible to reduce in part the noise pollution caused by the turbines. As part of a repowering process, the wind farm of Ahlerstedt-Wohnste invested 16 million euros (about $18.8 million) to replace some of its turbines. The new ones are 149 meters high with a diameter of 82 meters. The number of rotations per minute were reduced from 23 to 18 while producing significantly more electricity.

Renewable energies have already led to the creation of 130,000 jobs in Germany, and they represented 35% of the country's energy mix in the first half of 2017, making it Germany's first power source. "We should even reach 40%," forecasts Patrick Graichen, of the Berlin-based think tank Agora Energiewende, adding that the constructions of onshore and offshore wind farms are maintaining a sustained pace. More than 28,000 wind turbines have already been installed in Germany.

Berlin's plans for offshore projects are very ambitious. Germany wants to reach a production capacity of 20 gigawatts by 2030 and 30 gigawatts by 2035. But the government's subsidies policy comes at a cost. The price of electricity for the consumer has doubled since 2000. And, paradoxically, the wind energy boom has not prevented the return of coal plants.

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Thousands of migrants in Del Rio, Texas, on the border between Mexico and the U.S.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

👋 Сайн уу*

Welcome to Friday, where the new U.S.-UK-Australia security pact is under fire, Italy becomes the first country to make COVID-19 "green pass" mandatory for all workers, and Prince Philip's will is to be kept secret for 90 years. From Russia, we also look at the government censorship faced by brands that recently tried to promote multiculturalism and inclusiveness in their ads.

[*Sain uu - Mongolian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• U.S. facing multiple waves of migrants, refugees: The temporary camp, located between Mexico's Ciudad Acuña and Del Rio in Texas, is housing some 10,000 people, largely from Haiti. With few resources, they are forced to wait in squalid conditions and scorching temperatures amidst a surge of migrants attempting to cross into the U.S. Meanwhile, thousands of recently evacuated Afghan refugees wait in limbo at U.S. military bases, both domestic and abroad.

• COVID update: Italy is now the first European country to require vaccination for all public and private sector workers from Oct. 15. The Netherlands will also implement a "corona pass" in the following weeks for restaurants, bars and cultural spaces. When he gives an opening speech at the United Nations General Assembly next week, unvaccinated Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro will defy New York City authorities, who are requiring jabs for all leaders and diplomats.

• U.S. and UK face global backlash over Australian deal: The U.S. is attempting to diffuse the backlash over the new security pact signed with Australia and the UK, which excludes the European Union. The move has angered France, prompting diplomats to cancel a gala to celebrate ties between the country and the U.S.

• Russian elections: Half of the 450 seats in Duma are will be determined in today's parliamentary race. Despite persistent protests led by imprisoned opposition leader Alexey Navalny, many international monitors and Western governments fear rigged voting will result in President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party maintaining its large majority.

• Somali president halts prime minister's authority: The decision by President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed marks the latest escalation in tensions with Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble concerning a murder investigation. The move comes as the Horn of Africa country has fallen into a political crisis driven by militant violence and clashes between clans.

• Astronauts return to Earth after China's longest space mission: Three astronauts spent 90 days at the Tianhe module and arrived safely in the Gobi desert in Inner Mongolia. The Shenzhou-12 mission is the first of crewed missions China has planned for 2021-2022 as it completes its first permanent space station.

• Prince Philip's will to be kept secret for 90 years: A British court has ruled that the will of Prince Philip, the late husband of Britain's Queen Elizabeth who passed away in April at 99 years old, will remain private for at least 90 years to preserve the monarch's "dignity and standing."

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

With a memorable front-page photo, Argentine daily La Voz reports on the open fight between the country's president Alberto Fernández and vice-president Cristina Kirchner which is paralyzing the government. Kirchner published a letter criticizing the president's administration after several ministers resigned and the government suffered a major defeat in last week's midterm primary election.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

€150

An Italian investigation uncovered a series of offers on encrypted "dark web" websites offering to sell fake EU COVID vaccine travel documents. Italy's financial police say its units have seized control of 10 channels on the messaging service Telegram linked to anonymous accounts that were offering the vaccine certificates for up to €150. "Through the internet and through these channels, you can sell things everywhere in the world," finance police officer Gianluca Berruti told Euronews.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

In Russia, brands advertising diversity are under attack

Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi removed an advertisement with a Black man and apologized for offending the Russian nation, while a grocery chain was attacked for featuring an LGBTQ couple, reports Moscow-based daily Kommersant.

❌ "On behalf of the entire company, we want to apologize for offending the public with our photos..." reads a recent statement by Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi after publishing an advertisement that included a photograph of a Black man. Shortly after, the company's co-founder, Konstantin Zimen, said people on social media were accusing Yobidoyobi of promoting multiculturalism. Another recent case involved grocery store chain VkusVill, which released advertising material featuring a lesbian couple. The company soon began to receive threats and quickly apologized and removed the text and apologized.

🏳️🌈 For the real life family featured in the ad, they have taken refuge in Spain, after their emails and cell phone numbers were leaked. "We were happy to express ourselves as a family because LGBTQ people are often alone and abandoned by their families in Russia," Mila, one of the daughters in the ad, explained in a recent interview with El Pais.

🇷🇺 It is already common in Russia to talk about "spiritual bonds," a common designation for the spiritual foundations that unite modern Russian society, harkening back to the Old Empire as the last Orthodox frontier. The expression has been mocked as an internet meme and is widely used in public rhetoric. For opponents, this meme is a reason for irony and ridicule. Patriots take spiritual bonds very seriously: The government has decided to focus on strengthening these links and the mission has become more important than protecting basic human rights.Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi removed an advertisement with a Black man and apologized for offending the Russian nation, while a grocery chain was attacked for featuring an LGBTQ couple, reports Moscow-based daily Kommersant.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"Ask the rich countries: Where are Africa's vaccines?"

— During an online conference, Dr. Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija, of the African Vaccine Delivery Alliance, implored the international community to do more to inoculate people against COVID-19 in Africa and other developing regions. The World Health Organization estimates that only 3.6% of people living in Africa have been fully vaccinated. The continent is home to 17% of the world population, but only 2% of the nearly six billion shots administered so far have been given in Africa, according to the W.H.O.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

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