Community Wind Power: Local Energy for Local People by BWE–A Review

By Paul Gipe

In a densely populated country like Germany, wind turbines as a consequence are installed near people, as are all other forms of infrastructure. That’s one of the most striking observations North Americans make when visiting Germany – there are wind turbines, solar panels, and biogas plants everywhere.

Thus, it’s critically important for the expansion of renewable energy in Germany that the public not only accept wind turbines in the landscape but endorse it.

The Germans, like the Danes before them, have become renowned for not only integrating wind energy into the fabric of their communities but enabling citizen, (Bürger) ownership.

In German, this is called the Bürgerbeteiligung or literally citizen-share ownership movement. And it has been a resounding success. In 2011 more than 50% of all wind-generating capacity in Germany was owned by its own citizens – directly.

A lot has been written about this movement – German. Finally, there is a short document in English that explains the basic concepts and how it works in Germany.

Community Wind Power: local energy for local people is produced by the German Wind Turbine Owners Association (Bundesverband WindEnergie or BWE), Germany’s principal wind energy trade association. After Denmark’s trade association, BWE is the world’s second largest wind energy advocacy organization.

As the head of the association, Hermann Albers, says in the preface, “Germany’s energy transition will not be possible without popular acceptance.”

This “local acceptance is far greater when the wind farm is not just a project of out-of-town investors, but is locally owned. After all, active participation – from investments to input during planning and project management – leads people to identify with the wind farm project from the outset.”

While most community-owned projects are developed with the share-ownership model of limited partnerships, there is a growing movement in Germany toward true cooperatives. In a stock company, votes on management decisions are determined by the number of shares an investor owns. In a cooperative, one person has one vote no matter how many shares they own. Germans have successfully used both models.

Most importantly, says BWE, local ownership means profits flow to citizens and hence by them through the local economy. Similarly, locally owned projects are incorporated in the local community and pay local taxes, which further benefits the community where the turbines are located.

Fortunately, BWE includes several examples of successful locally-owned wind projects. One is the community wind farm in the polder of Friedrich-Wilhelm-Lübke-Koog in the far northwestern corner of Germany near the Danish border.

The Lübke-Koog project is one of the first if not the first such project in Germany. Their model was the many community-owned wind turbines just a few kilometers away in Denmark. They installed their first turbines in 1992 and expanded with more turbines in 1999. By 2004 when the polder’s residents began to repower their earlier installations, they were operating 32 wind turbines with a combined capacity of 18.5 MW.

Today, the Lübke-Koog’s community wind plants are owned by 270 residents and is undergoing its second repowering project that will allow for offering shares to new participants. More than 95% of all households in the polder have invested in renewable energy in some form.

“It was not easy to plan and complete the project in all of its stages and with all of its requirements. But once again, it shows what citizens from a small community are capable of when everyone pulls together,” says Hans-Detlef Feddersen, vice-mayor of Lübke-Koog. (For more on the Lübke-Koog project, see Hans-Detlef Feddersen “Windkraft fest in Bauernhand”.)

For us in North America, the brochure and the story of Germany’s success with local ownership of renewables remains an inspiration.

Community Wind Power: local energy for local peopleby Bundesverband WindEnergie (German Wind Turbine Owners Asscociation), 22 pages, Berlin, Germany, 2012.