Energy from the Heavens: Franz Alt on Wind Energy

By Paul Gipe

Theologian, popular author, renewables activist, TV personality, Franz Alt is something of a phenomenon in Germany.

Unfortunately for us Anglophones, Alt writes only in German. So it was a pleasant surprise to see that he had one of his articles recently translated into English.

The article Energy from above – Wind power instead of nuclear power is typical Alt—a blend of observation, theology, and a vision of a renewable future that’s largely in the hands of the people.

Here are some excerpts and following the excerpts some links to other works by Alt as well as his influence on other “stromrebellen”—German electricity rebels.

On War & Peace

“Wind power is, like the sun, a free gift from the heavens that is available for all time – leaving no diesel soot and no nuclear waste. It saves the environ­ment, in country after country, from tens of millions of metric tons of greenhouse gases. Wars are fought over oil, but the wind will never be a reason for war. Every wind turbine is a sign of peace. War over oil or peace from sun and wind? This is one of the key policy issues of the 21st century.”

On Dardesheim Where One in Three Own Their Local Turbines

“A few years ago in the community of Dardesheim in Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany, I was allowed to dedicate a wind farm with 16 wind turbines – in the meantime 15 more have been added, and only recently the largest wind turbine in the world was installed there, a six-megawatt plant. The small community of about 1,000 residents is now producing clean electricity for 40,000 people. One in three residents has a financial interest in the wind farm. Every year this wind farm saves the environment 160,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases. And the mayor is happy about the good business-tax revenue.

Today in Germany, wind energy provides about nine per cent of the electricity. About 250,000 people have invested their money in wind turbines. Recent surveys show that 77 per cent of Germans want to make a personal contribution to the energy transition, even if it costs money.”

On Misguided Opposition to Wind

“In some places the still fierce battle against windmills reminds me of the irrational opposition to the first railroads ages ago, including flyers stating that railroads were irresponsi­ble because at the ‘high speed of 28 kilometres per hour cows drop dead in terror along the railway tracks’.”

On Wind’s Uncertainty

“Often I hear the argument that wind power and solar power are uncertain. Is oil from Libya or natural gas from Siberia certain? What is certain is that oil and gas will expire in the coming decades and will become unaffordable much sooner.”

On Local Ownership

“The objection that windmills disfigure the landscape is peculiar. No form of energy production occupies as little space as wind  energy. Thankfully, resistance is waning. I have ‘opened’ about 300 wind turbines and wind farms world­wide in the last two decades. Wherever the local population is involved in wind farms, the opposi­tion is very soon over. The renewable energy transition can only be organized through decentralized structures. The motto for successful energy cooperatives is that the energy for the region comes from the region!”

The motto that Alt cites is from the work of Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen, the founder of the German cooperative movement in the 19th century. Like the theologian N.F.S. Grundtvig in Denmark, Raiffeisen had a profound effect on villages and rural communities across his native land. His “From the region – for the region” has become the rallying cry of Germany’s electricity rebels. 

Krieg um Öl oder Frieden durch die Sonne (War over Oil or Peace through the Sun)

Moral imperatives are central to Alt and his theological training infuses his work. If you’ve ever heard him give a presentation, you’d call him an evangelist. While he may be short on the fire and brimstone, he’s clear that we need to make the switch to renewables now or we may be lost.

Strom Rebels of Schönau: The Village That Built Their Own Solar Utility

While thumbing through one of Franz Alt’s books in the comfort of my easy chair, I stopped on the heading “Strom Rebels of Schönau”. (I couldn’t honestly say I was reading Alt’s book. My German’s not up to the task.) What, I asked myself, do rebels have to do with electricity?

Dardesheim: Germany’s Renewable Energy Town

Some 300 attended the festival opening the first-phase of the project on Whitsuntide in 2005. At the dedication, noted German author and activist Franz Alt, called the celebration a “festival of the spirit.” Alt, a theologian known for his biblical allusions, called wind energy the “power of the spirit,” a play on words in German denoting both the human spirit and the spirit of the creator. Alt called wind energy literally a “gift from the heavens.”

Windy Protest: Conflict Surrounding the Future Potential of Wind Power (Windiger Protest Konflikte um das Zukunftspotential der Windkraft)

Windiger Protest (Bochum, Germany: Ponte Press, 1998) is a powerful little book edited by Franz Alt, Jürgen Claus, and Hermann Scheer. It sandwiches 189 pages packed with a documented defense of wind energy between Jan Oelker’s and Manfred Vollmer’s stunning black & white photographs.