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

By Paul Gipe

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.

Alt is a prize-winning TV journalist and author of books on peace, nuclear power, and solar energy. Claus is an artist, art critic, and a teacher at the Cologne school for media arts. Scheer, who is probably more well known in North America than the other editors, is a member of the German parliament, the Bundestag, and president of Eurosolar (the European Solar Energy Association).

Six other authors contribute chapters on such varied topics as Energy and Environmental Economics (Ralf Bischof), and Environmental Protection Against Nature Protection (Georg Löser).

The title, Windiger Protest, is a play on words that works equally well in German and English (a windiger or windy protest is one that is lame or frivolous). The book aims directly at wind energy’s critics in Germany, the world’s largest market for wind turbines. The authors heap special disdain on Otfried Wolfrum, the author of a much-publicized book attacking the proliferation of wind turbines in the German countryside.

The publication of Windiger Protest is partly a response to Wolfrum’s book “Windenergie: eine Alternative, die keine ist” (Wind Energy: an Alternative it Isn’t). He alleges that wind energy is as incompatible, as environmentally unfriendly, and as hostile to people as brown coal, hard coal, or nuclear power. (Wolfrum’s attacks on wind energy are eerily similar to those of the Natural Gas Producers Association in the United States, who charge that wind energy is “not green, and not cheap”.) Wolfrum calls for a complete halt to wind development, giving pseudo-scientific and environmental reasons for doing so.

The most inflammatory portions of Wolfrum’s book are excerpted in Windiger Protest (along with rebuttals) as are portions of a fiery letter to Wolfrum’s publisher, Verlag 2001, by Hermann Scheer. The controversy doesn’t fit Verlag 2001’s image as a publisher of books on ecology and the legendary Carter-era Global 2000 study, says Scheer. He accuses the publisher, which he allows may itself be anti-fascist, of distributing a fascist tract. This is a charge that resonates in Germany. (An equivalent denunciation in the USA is to call someone a racist. Both insults harken back to an unsavory period in each culture’s history.)

The dispute is not merely an academic one over questionable footnotes. Germany is the world’s largest market for wind turbines and, with a population of 80 million, it has surpassed the entire North American continent, with a population exceeding 300 million, in total installed wind capacity. And despite the 98-99 Midwestern wind rush, Germany will likely continue to lead North American wind development into the new millennium. Sales of wind turbines in Germany during the past two years exceed $1,500 million.

With the high profile launch of Windiger Protest, and Scheer’s name recognition, the battle has been joined. I saw posters advertising the book on shop windows when I was in Germany last fall. The last time I saw a poster advertising a book on wind energy in North America was in the early 1980s–and I never saw those posters plastered across a bookstore window as those of Windiger Protest were in one German town.

Some items of note from Windiger Protest:

Bundesverband Windenergie’s Ralf Bischof calculates that to provide the same amount of electricity in Germany as does one 1300 MW nuclear power plant would require 6,400 wind turbines of 600 kW each; to replace one 600 MW hard coal plant would require 2,000 turbines; and to replace one 800 MW soft coal plant would require 3,700 turbines.

Bischof works out of Bundesverband Windenergie’s Bonn office. BWE is the German Wind Energy Association.

Despite the rapid growth of wind energy in Germany, there were only 5 kW/km2 of wind capacity across the entire country whereas Denmark had 22 kW/km2 in mid 1997. In other words, there were only 21 watts of wind power per inhabitant in Germany, versus 180 watts per inhabitant in Denmark. Bischof implies that only seems like Germany has a lot of wind turbines, but in fact it has a long ways to go to rival the density of wind development in Denmark.

Bischof estimates that wind-generated electricity offsets 995-1,015 g/kWh of carbon dioxide equivalent from hard coal plants in Germany or 610-630 g/kWh of carbon dioxide equivalent from the average fuel mix.

External costs of wind energy amount to only 0.01 pfennig/kWh versus 41-61 Pf/kWh ($0.24-$0.36/kWh) for coal, oil, and natural gas, and 4-26 Pf/kWh ($0.024-$0.17/kWh) for nuclear power.

Georg Löser, the Baden-Württemberg representative for BUND, Germany’s largest environmental organization, states the group’s position on wind energy in the chapter entitled “Environmental Protection versus Nature Protection”. BUND, says Löser,

  • prefers energy conservation and efficiency (to new supply),
  • an immediate halt to nuclear energy, and
  • the development of environmentally tailored technologies for using renewable energy (such as wind).

An affiliate of Friends of the Earth with 300,000 members, BUND (Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland, or the German League for Environment and Nature Protection) should not be confused with BLS, Bundesverband Landschaftschutz (the German Association for Landscape Protection), an anti-wind group much like Country Guardians in Great Britain.

BUND has been a strong advocate of wind energy. The BUND chapters in Bavaria and Thuringia have gone so far as to help sell shares in a cooperative wind turbine. The Baden-Würtemmberg chapter has recently followed suit.

Löser finds that ecologically sensitive wind energy development is particularly friendly to the environment, and goes on to enumerate wind energy’s environmental advantages. He also describes how wind energy can be developed with respect for the local environment.

Still, wind projects, says BUND’s Löser, should account for audible noise, infra-sound (of minor importance), and optical effects. The latter include both shadow flicker and the “disco” effect due to reflections from moving blades.

And wind projects have an effect on their neighbors and on the landscape. Löser notes that in Denmark as in Germany, bird sanctuaries and residential areas are excluded from wind development. In Denmark there are also zones designated for wind plants, as well as zones set aside for single turbines and clusters. This was not done in Germany for the early turbines but such planning is now underway in many parts of Germany. He suggests that the arrangement of small groups (clusters) of turbines is preferable to large wind plants. It is also important, he says, to inform nearby residents and villagers of what the turbines will look like on the landscape using computer models and to get their support before projects are begun.

Löser’s chapter may be far more revealing than most wind advocates realize. He clearly states BUND’s position, and by extension, that of other mainstream environmentalists in Germany. For example, his suggested limits on the number of turbines in wind plants and his comments on the size of turbines differ markedly with the trend in the German market toward both bigger wind plants and bigger turbines. He suggests the zeal to rapidly install as many turbines as possible may backfire by creating opposition to wind development, and cites the example of the proposed “border wind plant.”

On the Danish side of the German border a planning request for 30 turbines went through an orderly process and were approved. However, on the German side developers were overly ambitious and their proposal for 70 turbines ran into opposition from a local landscape protection association due to the unusual size of the project. (The project was so large jurisdiction was split among three neighboring communities. It’s the backlash against projects like the “border wind plant” that has led BUND to draft environmental guidelines for wind energy in Germany. These guidelines should be published by mid-summer.)

Wind turbines lead to a change in the landscape that is different from other human activities, says Löser. Wind turbines have specific features that set them apart, such as the tower and the turning rotor, which attracts the eye. By their nature, wind turbines must be in the open with unobstructed access to the wind. These are the same characteristics that make wind turbines highly visible for great distances.

Wind turbines are eye-catching new elements or landmarks on the landscape. They can represent an elegant, slender filigree, natural power, and a symbol of clean energy. For a farmer, the sight of a turning rotor could mean a second or third crop. On the other hand, but fortunately seldom, they can be seen as inappropriate, disturbing, foreign, industrial, or simply incommodious.

Most photographs of wind turbines in the media are deceiving, says Löser. By implication, this hurts wind’s interests. Published photos mostly show the turbines against a cloudless blue sky in bright sunshine. Under these conditions the turbines appear starker and more massive than under average German weather. Or the photographers use zoom lens which create the effect of a massive wall of wind turbines.

New turbines with tower heights from 40-70 meters, occasionally 80 meters, and with long rotor blades stand over 20 to 35 meters higher than trees (15 to 50 meters high) and rural structures (10 to 20 meters high). They are similar in height, he explains, to the 100,000 high voltage pylons in Germany (40 to over 100 meters tall), but are substantially shorter than the giant telecom towers unique to Germany (200 meters high). The reason for this discussion of tower height turns up later when Löser states his view on what is too tall.

Knowing this, says Löser, we can better judge the change in the landscape surrounding wind turbines and can classify landscapes as to their suitability for wind development.

  • cultural-historical landscapes: These should be protected when they have particularly unusual characteristics.
  • harmonious cultural landscapes: that is, parts of the Allgäus or also parts of the Schwarzwald (the Black Forest) and other mountains in Germany’s central uplands. There is a concern that these landscapes should be protected or only developed cautiously. As these regions cover a large part of Germany a potentially large number of sites are affected. But with proper planning, through computer simulation to optimize siting, small groups of turbines can be sited without giving the landscape an industrial character.
  • modern cultural landscape: Small groups of turbines or even small wind farms (no more than 5-10 turbines per site) can be installed with careful planning in agricultural landscapes, in some areas of foresty, near small settlements, roads, highways, and railroads, and even near high voltage lines.
  • man-made landscapes: Industrial zones, mining landscapes, harbors, polders, unused pumped-storage reservoirs, roadways, tilled fields, by high voltage lines and telecom towers, and big cities. These should be the primary zones for wind turbines, that is, used alongside agriculture or industry. Wind turbines may even improve these man-made landscapes.

He concludes his chapter with a comment that should warm the heart of wind developers: wind energy should not be automatically taboo in landscape protection zones. Single turbines and small groups of up to 5 machines per site should be acceptable, he says, when the protection zone’s objectives are not essentially compromised.

However, there are landscapes that must be excluded from wind development, such as,

  • national parks,
  • nature reserves,
  • areas surrounding natural wonders,
  • areas in open-space plans and landscape plans designated with special scientific significance,
  • parts of landscape protection zones where protection objectives would be essentially compromised by wind turbine installations,
  • historic cultural landscapes, and
  • landscape zones used exclusively for recreation.

With German and Danish manufacturers in a race to build ever bigger turbines, Löser asks a final rhetorical question. “How big can wind turbines become?” He answers with his opinion, but his opinion carries weight within BUND. Löser sees a maximum total height of 100 meters for wind turbines inland, that is, a maximum tower height of 70 meters. At particularly sensitive sites, the turbines should possibly be 10 to 30 meters shorter.

Manufacturers, developers, and wind energy advocates alike should pay careful attention to that closing comment. It says, for those who will listen, that the current crop of 1.5 MW turbines may be too large for some landscapes, though suitable for offshore projects 10-15 km off the coast.

Indeed, it is more than a hint that a line in the sand is being drawn and that manufacturers cross it at their peril. The alliance between German environmentalists and the German wind industry that make such joint endeavors as Windiger Protest a possibility may be in jeopardy.

There’s much more to Windiger Protest than the two chapters by Bischof and Löser. Jürgen Claus’s chapter on wind art is equally provocative, as are others.

Windiger Protest is a book that should be translated into English and placed in the hands of every Anglophone renewable energy policy analyst, environmental activist, and wind energy advocate. If Eurosolar doesn’t produce an English version soon, brush up on your Deutsch and take a stab at Windiger Protest. It’s time well spent.

Windiger Protest: Konflikte um das Zukunftspotential der Windkraft, edited by Franz Alt, Jürgen Claus, and Herman Scheer, 1998 ISBN 3-920328-37-X. 8.5 x 5.5 inches, Ponte Press, Stockumer Str. 148, D44892 Bochum, Germany; ph: +49 234 92 70 833, fax: +49 234 92 70 834.

Windiger Protest Table of Contents

Vorwort der Herausgeber (Foreword)

Windiger Protest (Windy Protest) by Herman Scheer

Energie und Umweltökonomie der Windkraft: Fakten gegen Fiktionen (Energy and Environmental Economics of Wind Power: Facts against Fiction) by Ralf Bischof

Windenergie: Umweltschutz kontra Naturschutz (Wind Energy: Environmental Protection versus Nature Protection) by Georg Löser

Baurecht Kontra Lanschaftsschutz? (Building Coses vs Landscape Protection) by Jörg Niedersberg

Die Masche ist immer dieselbe (It’s Always the Same Old Story) by Michael Franken

Windenergie und Landschaftsästhetic: Dialog mit dem Wind (Wind Energy and Landscape Aesthetics: Dialog with the Wind) by Jürgen Claus

Windkraft–Made in Denmark by Ulrich Jochimsen

Windkraft–Made in Germany by Michaele Hustedt (member of the German parliament for the Green party)

Die Zukunft des Energierechts: Bessere Karten für Erneuerbare Energien (The Future of Energy Rights: Better Cards for Renewable Energy) by Hermann Scheer

Schauen und vergleichen Sie selbst (Look and Compare Yourself) by Franz Alt

Stellungnahmen der deutschen Umweltvergände zur Windfraft und zu den Kampagnen gegen Windkraftanlagen (Viewpoint of German Environmental Groups on Wind Power and the Campaign Against Wind Turbines)

Kurzbiographien der Autoren (Brief Biographies of the Authors)

Informationskästen (Information boxes or side bars)


Quo vadis Hans-Christoph Binswanger? (Whither goest thou Hans-Christoph Binswanger?)


Zitate aus “Windenergie: eine Alternative, die keine ist” (Quotations from Wind Energy: an Alternative it Isn’t)


Die negativen Effekte der Luftverschmutzung auf die biologische Vielfalt (The Negative Effect of Air Pollution on the Biological Diversity)
Sind ökologische Anlagefonds die Bauherrenmodelle der Zukunft? (Are Ecological Investment Bonds the Tax Incentive Model for the Future?)
Antwort des Minsters für Bauen und Wohnen vom 7.4.1997 (Answer of the Minister for Building and Living from April 7, 1997)
Statt “Atomenergie–nein danke,” nun “Windenergie–nein danke” (Instead of “Atomic Energie–No Thanks” it’s now, “Wind Energy–No Thanks”)
Kostenvergleich mit Dänemark (Cost Comparison with Denmark)
Windkraft kontra Tourismus? (Wind Power Against Tourism?)