The “house war” in Saxony is over. For months, the coalition had been arguing bitterly about how the distance regulation for wind turbines should be designed in detail. In the 2019 government program, the CDU, Greens and SPD had agreed on a minimum distance of 1000 meters “to residential development”. The question of what exactly is to be understood by this was a long-standing dispute between the CDU Minister for Regional Development, Thomas Schmidt, and his Green colleague for the environment, Wolfram Günther. Now it is clear: the rule applies where there are at least five residential buildings. This is what the draft of the new building code says, which the state parliament still has to decide. According to Felix Ekardt, head of the environmental association BUND, the distance does not apply to “every six-monthly inhabited gazebo”.
Such a scenario was a bit exaggerated. Nevertheless, associations had feared that the distance clause would choke off the expansion of wind power in Bavaria in the long term. The CDU had already wanted to draw the one-kilometer radius around houses with only three apartments. In a densely populated state like Saxony, there would hardly have been any areas where wind turbines could be erected. But now there are “first prospects for stimulating the expansion,” says Wolfgang Daniels, President of the Association for the Promotion of the Use of Renewable Energies in Saxony (VEE).
That would also be urgently needed, after all “the expansion of wind energy use has been stagnating for years”, as stated in a fire letter from the VEE in November 2021. In 2021, only one new wind turbine was installed in Saxony; at the same time, eleven outdated plants were dismantled. The expansion is lower than in any other federal state. This is in blatant contrast to projects from the coalition agreement. There, an increase of four terawatt hours of energy from renewable sources is envisaged by 2024 alone, »of which the main part is to be generated by wind energy«. That would mean that around 200 wind turbines would have to be built. According to VEE, in order to implement such goals, a turnaround is required “particularly in the approval practice”.
It remains to be seen whether that will come to pass. The Greens are confident. There is an “upwind for the energy transition,” says Daniel Gerber, energy expert in the state parliamentary group, who now sees “planning security”. This also ensures further agreements on detailed questions. According to Regional Minister Schmidt, the distance of 1000 meters can still be undershot if existing wind turbines are to be upgraded (repowering) or if a municipality wants it. In both cases, the city or municipal councils must decide. This strengthens the decision-making options on site “and thus acceptance,” said Minister Schmidt. The CDU hopes to use the 1,000 meter rule to reduce the sometimes strong resistance of local residents. However, the AfD, which acts as its advocate in many places, still does not go far enough with the one-kilometer rule. It requires ten times the height of a wind turbine as the minimum distance, as is the case in Bavaria.
The left, on the other hand, does not believe that the current compromise will create new dynamics. Your energy expert Marco Böhme emphasizes that a requirement of 1000 meters distance is, regardless of the regulations in detail, “not a relaxation of the previous rules, but an additional hurdle to expansion”. He refers to a study by the Federal Environment Agency. In 2019, she came to the conclusion that a minimum distance of one kilometer would reduce the space available for the construction of new wind turbines “by 20 to 50 percent”. In addition, repowering would only be possible for a good third of the wind turbines that existed at the time.
Böhme also refers to the effort that the compromise now found means for the responsible regional planning associations (RPV). You would now have to count houses. That will further delay the “planning processes that are far too long anyway.” The Chemnitz “Freie Presse” notes in this context that in southern Saxony a draft that is ready for a decision has already had to be revised in order to ensure a distance of 1000 meters to each individual residential building. In June 2021 he was finished. Now it has to be changed again. That means a delay until at least 2023.
In view of this, the VEE appeals to the planning associations to “hurry up with the implementation”. At least there is now clarity, and “certain exceptions are possible,” says Daniels. In general, you stick to the criticism of a rigid 1000-meter rule. The BUND also sees this as a “significant impediment” to the energy transition. The current regulation is not enough to achieve the binding 1.5-degree target, says state head Ekardt. A much faster expansion of wind energy is needed. He is now relying on an announcement by the federal government that it wants to abolish the blanket distance regulation.