Pioneers of the Bürger (Citizen’s) Wind Movement
A model for a Renewable Future and an Engaged Population
The Friedrich-Wilhelm-Lübke-Koog is a polder in the far northwest corner of Germany, near the Danish border. It faces the North Sea and is just south of the railway causeway (the Hindenburgdamm) to the summer resort island of Sylt. The polder and its citizens have become a beacon to others worldwide who want to develop wind and solar energy for their own benefit.
I’ve been making pilgrimages to the Koog since the mid 1990s when community wind project developer Henning Holst said it was a “must-see” on any tour of Northern Germany. Since then, I’ve been back at least three times.
On a recent tour of Denmark and Nord Friesland prior to the big wind extravaganza in the nearby port city of Husum, I stopped in to see Hans-Detlef Feddersen. It was a fortuitous visit. Feddersen was free to give Nancy and me a tour of the polder and the day was warm, and sunny, with only light winds. Normally the Koog is buffeted by gales from the North Sea.
There are 176 residents, nearly all farmers and their families, living within the 1,350-ha (3,400-acre or about 5-square- miles) polder. The Koog contains 25 active farms and has had a long history of innovative practices since the polder was settled in 1958. Many of the descendents of these pioneers still live in the polder, including Feddersen.
Because of Feddersen and others like him, the Koog became famous for developing some of the first, if not the first, community-owned wind projects in Germany. But wind development in the Koog didn’t start out that way.
Note: This is an updated and expanded version of an article posted December 23, 2010.
In 1991 the Koog saw the construction of its first wind farm. Dubbed the Nordfriesland Windpark, the project consisted of fifty 250-kW wind turbines, manufactured at the old shipworks in Husum. At the time it was one of Europe’s largest wind power plants. Shares in the project were sold across Germany and–this is significant for similar projects elsewhere–shares were also made available to the Koog‘s residents.
The year was historic for other reasons. At the end of 1990, the German parliament, the Bundestag, passed a law on feeding electricity into the grid–the now famous Stromeinspeisungsgesetz, the first feed law.
Bürger Windpark Lübke-Koog
As the privately financed project was going into the ground, local farmers began meeting to discuss installing their own wind turbines, which they could now do under the new law.
At first only ten farmers were interested, and after just two meetings they concluded it was only going to be possible if they banded together with others. They formed an association, then set out to inform their neighbors what they were considering. They wanted as many of the residents to participate as possible, both financially and in spirit, so they could build a Bürger or “citizen-owned” project. Their model was the many community-owned wind turbines just a few kilometers away in Denmark.
Two decades ago, when this was all new, there was some opposition to the wind turbines, says Feddersen. Some were afraid of what the turbines might do to tourism, or the noise they would make. Feddersen made it a point to involve as many people as possible from the very beginning, so their concerns could be addressed early on.
In only three months the small group had grown to 44 shareholders and had won the support of the community in the Koog. They invested 10% of the cost of the project directly and raised the remainder through a loan from the region’s cooperative bank. The loan was securitized with their land and homes.
After two years of planning, the Bürgerbeteiligung, or citizen-owned limited partnership, installed its first 14 turbines. That project was so successful that it was expanded to 32 turbines in 1999, more than doubling the revenue from the first project.
The initial fear of the impact on tourism was turned on its head. The Koog‘s residents have turned the existence of the turbines to their advantage. They promote the wind turbines as the start of a local adventure, including “windmill climbing” – a form of recreation not recommended for the faint of heart.
Community Economic Development
Feddersen is an active participant in his community. He’s been vice-mayor of the Koog for the past two decades. He has the self-assured manner of someone accustomed to speaking in public.
In fact, Feddersen is a stirring speaker in both German and English about the need for and the role of community-initiated renewable energy development. He emphasizes how revenue from the turbines flows back into the pockets of local owners, increasing their incomes and purchasing power that they then spend in the regional economy.
Landowners with turbines on their property also receive payments for land leases in the form of royalties on the revenue generated from the turbines.
The commercial property tax that the turbines pay, as much as €13,000 per MW of capacity per year, flows directly into the community’s coffers. For a community of less than 200 people, that’s a substantial source of revenue.
The wind turbines also provide climate-protection benefits–an important factor for everyone in the polder because they live below sea level.
Feddersen studied agriculture in school and is fluent in English from apprenticeships spent in New Zealand and Australia. He continues to grow wheat, rapeseed, and sugar beets on his 90 ha (225 acres) family farm.
Today, Feddersen spends less time farming than in the past. He spends more and more of his time managing the existing projects, and planning new projects for other communities.
One has only to drive through the polder to see the result of the residents’ efforts. While the wind turbines are the most visible manifestation of the Koog‘s renewable development, there are a 1.6 MW of biogas plants and 1.8 MW of rooftop solar in the polder as well.
Solar is evident wherever one looks. Most farmers have added 30 kW to 50 kW of solar photovoltaic (solar PV) to their barn roofs. Because the polder is man-made, the road pattern in the Koog is rectilinear and most of the barns have a large south-facing roof.
Sixty years after his family’s house was built, Fedderson added 32 kW of solar photovoltaic panels to the roof–as did many of his neighbors. In this part of Germany, the house and the barn are integrated into one building. Thus, there’s room for such large arrays on most of the structures in the Koog.
The Koog‘s success is recognized throughout Germany. The residents won the top prize in a national competition for the highest concentration of solar energy per capita in 2009, 2010, and again in 2011. And in a region with the highest concentration of wind energy worldwide, the Koog remains a leader.
From High-Risk to Project Finance
In the early 1990s when the farmers of the Koog sat around their kitchen tables considering how they could use wind energy too, it was a high-risk venture.
Until then wind development was scattered among a few municipal utilities. Their heart wasn’t in it and the early projects were not successful.
The farmers “learned by doing”. Their expectations were also lower. They were farmers, after all–experienced at eking out an existence from the land. So they were willing to accept lower returns than a conventional corporate enterprise that had to report to shareholders in Frankfurt.
They put more at stake too. Their farms and their livelihoods were on the line. Thus, they had every reason to make as few mistakes as possible, and when their turbines were out of service, they made sure they were put back in service as soon as possible.
Klaus Rave, a former director of Investitionsbank Schleswig-Holstein, the regional development bank and chair of the European Wind Energy Association, says that it’s this local ownership–where the residents are themselves responsible for their investments–that makes them good risks. In the two decades he has been financing locally-owned wind projects, the bank has never had a default.
Wind is successful in the state of Schleswig-Holstein, says Rave, because it is
- and has local Acceptance.
Wind is accepted because it is owned locally by the people who have to live with it, and because they profit from it both directly and indirectly.
Once a project has been proven successful, the banks as well as the farmers know the resource, and with the transparent payments from the feed-in tariff, they can predict the revenue stream with a high degree of accuracy. This makes possible the repowering of older projects with newer, more powerful turbines, without collateral. The new projects use “project finance” where the project itself is sufficient collateral for a loan. Wind, says Rave, has become a safe haven for investment.
Rave says Investitionsbank prefers investing in community-owned wind projects because they pump more into the local economy than traditional absentee ownership.
To succeed with community wind, says Rave, “you must begin from the ground up”.
Once Freidrich-Wilhelm-Lübke-Koog‘s farmers succeeded with their first project, they realized they could do even more. The experience was empowering. And others elsewhere in Germany learned from their experience.
By 2004 when the polder’s residents began to replace their earlier installations, there were 32 wind turbines in the Koog with a combined capacity of 18.5 MW.
Because they live among the turbines they own, the Koog‘s residents may take more care than others elsewhere in how they site the turbines and how they fit into the landscape.
All the wind turbines are at least 400 meters from the farmers’ homes, as required in the state of Schleswig-Holstein. If the turbines create more than 45 dBA of noise at night, they must be sited farther away than the minimum.
The residents deliberately chose shorter towers than those that would have normally been used. With total heights above 100 meters, wind turbines in Germany must be marked to warn aircraft of their presence. During the day, the nacelles must be illuminated with white strobe lights or the tips of the blades must be painted red. At night the nacelles are illuminated with flashing red lights.
The Koog chose turbines and towers that didn’t require flashing lights at night, says Feddersen, because “The night should stay dark.”
Each time the residents have repowered an existing project with new turbines, they have substantially raised the installed capacity.
In 2009 the old wind turbines were removed and new ones installed. The “repowerings” reduced the number of turbines to 30 units, 25 of which are owned by 170 Bürgers of the community. Five turbines are owned by outside investors from the first project installed in the early 1990s.
They are currently repowering a site with Enercon E-66 turbines installed as recently as 2004. The 1.5 MW turbines will be replaced with fewer, but substantially larger, turbines. This will allow residents to buy more shares in the turbines.
Today there are four community-owned wind plants in the Koog, representing a total of 48 MW.
Recipe for Success
None of what the Koog‘s residents accomplished was easy, says Feddersen, but, “it shows what citizens from a small community are capable of when everyone pulls together.”
Now, more than 95% of all households in the polder have invested in renewable energy in some form.
Feddersen says there are several key themes of the Bürgerwind movement.
- We want renewable energy.
- We can do it ourselves.
- We bring our own risk capital and invest in the region.
- We take the risk together.
- We accept the change to the landscape that results from a new form of energy.
The recipe for success, says Feddersen is
- People within the region who want it and have the energy to make it happen,
- Willingness to cooperate and compromise,
- Creative problem solving, and
- The attitude that “together we’re strong.”
Because of these characteristics, Friedrich-Wilhelm-Lübke-Koog‘s success has become a model for community renewable power development wordwide.
For more on the Lübke-Koog project, see Hans-Detlef Feddersen “Windkraft fest in Bauernhand”, and Projekt: WP Friedrich-Wilhelm-Lübke-Koog.