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Wind Power Gaining Greater Support in Germany

With every day of uncertainty about the outcome of the nuclear disaster in Japan, wind energy is winning over new supporters in Germany's federal and powerful state governments.

Following the lead taken by the federal government, which has temporarily shut down seven nuclear power plants and called for greater use of renewable energies, North Rhine Westphalia, Germany’s most populous and industrialized state, has hatched a plan to increase the volume of electricity generated by wind power from the current 3.7 percent to 15 percent by 2020. The state government aims to use up to 2 percent of land under its jurisdiction for wind energy.

The plan calls for building new wind parks along the state’s extensive network of highways and railways. It also calls for relaxing the current requirement of keeping wind turbines at least 1,500 meters from residential areas. Moreover, local citizens will also have the opportunity to invest in the wind parks.

The North Rhine Westphalia government, formed by a coalition between the Social Democratic Party and the Green Party, also aims to relax the current limit on the height of the turbines. State Energy Minister Johannes Remmel said that a “repowering” of turbines currently operating in the state would contribute significantly to the state government’s 2020 target.

The center-right opposition in the state government is not expected to torpedo the plan, given recent defeats of the conservative and liberal party coalitions in other state elections. Many voters were upset with an earlier decision by Chancellor Merkel’s center-right coalition government to extend the operating life of several older nuclear power generating plants.

North Rhine Westphalia has some 2,000 wind turbines already in operation. Deutsche WindGuard estimates that more than 2,800 will be needed to achieve the state government’s target.

Minister Remmel plans to establish a special “clearing house” to handle conflicts. Although a rapidly growing number of Germans support the use of renewable energies such as wind and solar, at least because of their safety concerns with nuclear energy, many are reluctant to see new pylons and high-voltage cables planted on or near their property.  In addition, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has made several public statements that a rollout of renewable energies will require a significant expansion of the country’s grid system.

E.ON, one of Germany’s “Big Four” energy groups, sees both a necessity and an opportunity to expand into renewable energy. The company plans to invest €2.6 billion (US $3.7 billion) in wind and solar energy through 2013, it said in a statement.

The Dusseldorf-based energy giant said it expanded its wind and solar capacity by 600 MW to over 3.6 GW in 2010. Capacity is set to grow when new facilities come online soon, such as the 1 GW London Array offshore wind farm, the 300 MW German Amrumbank West offshore wind farm and the 100 MW solar power plant in Ecija, Span.

In the United States, E.ON has installed the first of its planned 94 wind turbines at the 150 MW wind farm in Settlers Trail, Illinois. 


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