Wind Energy and Friends of the Earth in Kassel, Germany–Some Observations

By Paul Gipe

Over the years I’ve noted more than once the observation that most major environmental groups in Germany give a full-throated endorsement of renewable energy, the energiewende, and wind energy in particular. This shouldn’t be that surprising—major environmental groups in North America also support expansion of renewable energy. What is different is the many ways this support is evident in Germany.

With all the wind turbines, solar panels, biogas plants visible across the breadth of the country you’d think Germany’s green groups would have had enough. But no, that’s not the case. Here’s one small example.

I was strolling down the street in Kassel, a medium-size town in Germany’s heartland while attending the 100% Renewable Energy Conference nearby. I stumbled upon a storefront for BUND (Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland), the Friends of the Earth affiliate in Germany. That’s not so remarkable, Friends of the Earth is much more active in Europe than in North America. What was remarkable was the storefront display on the energiewende, Germany’s transition from nuclear and fossil fuels to renewable energy.

The display was simply beautiful—bright, cheery, positive. Gone were those scary images of terrible environmental calamities that are befalling us. Friends of the Earth chose to emphasize what could be done to make a better world not the need to stop the terrible things happening to it now.

The theme was explained in a colorful brochure “Volle Kraft voraus! Für die ökologische Energiewende von unten,” or Full Speed Ahead for an ecological energy transition from below.

BUND wasn’t saying, “Let’s force the utilities to install renewable energy a little bit at a time” as we do here in the USA. No. BUND was saying, “Let’s start an energy revolution now, ourselves, we’re the only ones who can do it so let’s get started and go full speed ahead!”

The brochure depicted cheerful demonstrators holding placards calling for the “energiewende now” and “no brakes on the energiewende”. In other words, not let’s campaign for 10%, 20%, nor 30% renewable energy, instead they were say let’s make the transition—that means 100%–now.

BUND celebrates this citizen-led energy revolution with a now well-known chart showing that 11% of all the renewable energy in Germany is owned by farmers, and 40% is owned by individuals like BUND’s members and supporters. 51% of renewables in Germany—a country with the largest concentration of renewables in the world—is owned by common citizens. And a big chunk of the remainder is owned by project developers who themselves are small to mid-size companies.

BUND calls wind energy the “work horse” of Germany’s energiewende. Nevertheless, they make clear, however, that there are places where wind energy shouldn’t be developed, national parks, nature reserves, and so on.  Careful planning is required too where wind turbines are to be installed near other protected areas.

Yet, they go on to note that only 2% of Germany’s land area is required to generate 400 TWh of electricity per year—60% of current consumption–with wind energy. Wind turbines, thus, use land area very efficiently, says BUND. The amount actually used by the wind turbines themselves is even less and the turbines, towers, and foundations can then be removed after 20 years without any threat of radiation or toxic wastes.

Moreover, says BUND, wind energy is the cheapest form of renewable energy, and it pays back the energy used in its construction within three to six months. Better yet, wind energy can be developed, owned, and operated by cooperatives, municipal utilities, or partnerships of local people. Thus, wind energy can be developed from “unten” that is from below. Giant companies are not needed. The people can do it.

In fact, the wheels turn slowly in Berlin, Brussels, and New York (where the UN is located), says BUND.  Often those in these centers of power put the brakes on what needs to be done. Climate change demands immediate action, and that can only happen when the people take the energiewende into their own hands and see that it gets done—now.

Though it is known for its opposition to fossil fuels and nuclear power, BUND proudly notes that its member groups have always been at the forefront, if not the pioneers, of renewable energy in Germany.

BUND closes with a revolutionary call to arms: “The energiewende: we can do it. Join (the revolution) now.”

For a jaded North American activist simply searching for a book store, BUND’s small storefront, it’s cheery display, and it’s little brochure filled with hope and optimism grounded in the German people’s real world accomplishments was a sorely need shot in the arm to dive back into the fray.