Wildlife concerns blunt Germany’s green power efforts

Germany is expanding its power grid to aid the transition to renewable energies, but local residents in some areas are holding up the process over concerns about wildlife.

pylons in Germany
High voltage cables are carried by pylons in Germany. Image: AFP PHOTO / JOHN MACDOUGALL

“I am not saying that the energy transition is not necessary. But we don’t want these pylons,” Hartmut Lindner, 75, told AFP.

Lindner has been campaigning for 15 years against a planned high-voltage power line in the Schorfheide-Chorin nature reserve, a few kilometres from Berlin.

Energy company 50Hertz is planning to install around 115 kilometres (71 miles) of new lines between the towns of Bertikow and Neuenhagen, replacing an existing network of smaller pylons.

The new network is intended to supply the region with wind energy produced in northern Germany.

But it could pose a threat to “thousands of species of birds, some of them endangered” in the nature reserve, according to Lindner, a retired teacher.

Together with several hundred local residents, Lindner started a campaign in 2008 to oppose the project.

After years of public consultations and discussions, he is unhappy about the “lack of response” from 50Hertz, which has refused to change the route of the line and began construction work earlier this year.

12,000 kilometres

Lindner is one of a growing number of Germans fighting against the construction of electricity pylons near their homes, a trend that risks slowing down the transition to renewables.

The country is planning to phase out both coal and nuclear energy in the coming years, with renewables such as wind energy playing an increasingly important role in keeping the lights on.

“The problem is that wind energy is produced largely in the north, while many needs, especially industrial ones, are in the south. This electricity must therefore be transported using new networks,” Dierk Bauknecht, an expert at the Oeko-Institut research centre, told AFP.

To meet these needs, the German government has launched more than one hundred new power line projects over the past few years spanning 12,000 kilometres, according to official figures from the economy ministry.

And the trend looks set to continue, with Germany’s new ruling coalition of the Social Democrats, Greens and Free Democrats aiming for renewables to make up 80 percent of the energy mix by 2030.

‘Too slow’   

But the construction work on new power lines has been “too slow” due to “procedures” and “local resistance to these projects”, Bauknecht said.

According to a study by energy price comparison company Check24, the German network will be expanded by only 120 kilometres in 2021 – a third less than in 2020.

If nothing is done to speed up the process, Germany could “miss its objectives in terms of ecological transition”, Bauknecht said.

In a bid to address the problem, Berlin introduced new rules last year that simplify the bureaucratic procedures required for the approval of power lines and limit the possibilities for appeal.

But Lindner and his fellow campaigners, backed by environmental association NABU, still won a key legal victory this summer leading to the temporary suspension of construction on a section of the 50Hertz line.

A court will decide next year whether 50Hertz can continue with construction as planned or whether it must yield to the campaigners’ demands that it be rerouted or moved underground to protect the region’s biodiversity.

Such solutions have so far been ruled out by 50Hertz, which considers them too expensive.

50Hertz did not immediately reply to AFP’s requests for comment.

In a field a few kilometres from Lindner’s house, the huge pylons have already been built. But he still has hope of saving the wetlands a few hundred metres away, along with the birds that inhabit them.

“We must protect this unique place,” he said.

Member comments

  1. Climate change IS an emergency. Unfortunately, local concerns must be subservient to the national ones. The power lines are not going over his house, they are going through a reserve. Power lines have been around for a hundred years. They aren’t necessarily pretty, but they are necessary. And if that gentleman wants electricity and not to go back to the 1800s – they must be built.

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EXPLAINED: How the climate crisis is hitting Europe hard

From deadly wildfires to catastrophic floods, Europe is seeing the impact of the climate crisis with episodes of extreme weather only likely to increase in the coming years as average temperatures rise.

EXPLAINED: How the climate crisis is hitting Europe hard

Europe endured record extreme weather in 2021, from the hottest day and the warmest summer to deadly wildfires and
flooding, the European Union’s climate monitoring service reported Friday.

While Earth’s surface was nearly 1.2 degrees Celsius warmer than pre-industrial levels last year, Europe saw an average increase of more than two degrees, a threshold beyond which dangerous extreme weather events become
more likely and intense, the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) said.

The warmest summer on record featured a heatwave along the Mediterranean rim lasting weeks and the hottest day ever registered in Europe, a blistering 48.8C (120 degrees Fahrenheit) in Italy’s Sicily.

In Greece, high temperatures fuelled deadly wildfires described by the prime minister as the country’s “greatest ecological disaster in decades”.

Forests and homes across more than 8,000 square kilometres (3,000 square miles) were burned to the ground.

Front loaders work to move branches and uprooted trees near a bridge over the Ahr river in Insul, Ahrweiler district, western Germany, on July 28, 2021, weeks after heavy rain and floods caused major damage in the Ahr region. – At least 180 people died when severe floods pummelled western Germany over two days in mid-July, raising questions about whether enough was done to warn residents ahead of time. (Photo by Sascha Schuermann / AFP)

A slow-moving, low-pressure system over Germany, meanwhile, broke the record in mid-July for the most rain dumped in a single day.

The downpour was nourished by another unprecedented weather extreme, surface water temperatures over part of the Baltic Sea more than 5C above average.

Flooding in Germany and Belgium caused by the heavy rain — made far more likely by climate change, according to peer-reviewed studies — killed scores and caused billions of euros in damage.

As the climate continues to warm, flooding on this scale will become more frequent, the EU climate monitor has warned.

“2021 was a year of extremes including the hottest summer in Europe, heatwaves in the Mediterranean, flooding and wind droughts in western Europe,” C3S director Carlo Buontempo said in a statement.

“This shows that the understanding of weather and climate extremes is becoming increasingly relevant for key sectors of society.”     

A picture taken on July 15, 2021 shows damaged cars on a flooded street in the Belgian city of Verviers, after heavy rains and floods lashed western Europe, killing at least two people in Belgium. (Photo by François WALSCHAERTS / AFP)

‘Running out of time’

The annual report, in its fifth edition, also detailed weather extremes in the Arctic, which has warmed 3C above the 19th-century benchmark — nearly three times the global average.

Carbon emissions from Arctic wildfires, mostly in eastern Siberia, topped 16 million tonnes of CO2, roughly equivalent to the total annual carbon pollution of Bolivia.

Greenland’s ice sheet — which along with the West Antarctic ice sheet has become the main driver of sea level rise — shed some 400 billion tonnes in mass in 2021.

The pace at which the world’s ice sheets are disintegrating has accelerated more than three-fold in the last 30 years.

“Scientific experts like the IPCC have warned us we are running out of time to limit global warming to 1.5C,” said Mauro Facchini, head of Earth observation at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Defence Industry and Space, referring to the UN’s science advisory panel.

“This report stresses the urgent necessity to act as climate-related extreme events are already occurring.”