Critics say Germany’s updated renewable energy law lacks of ambition

The official draft for an amendment to Germany’s Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG) has been made public. It contains incentives for more wind energy in southern Germany and measures for ageing turbines, but critics say there is still a lot of room for improvement.

The document was long expected and the government will vote on it on 23 September, so that the new regulations of the 20- year-old law can come into force on 1 January.

The main objective of the new EEG is to increase the share of renewable energies in Germany from currently about 50% to 65% by 2030. To this end, the law lays down expansion paths that are to be redefined in 2023.

The plan now presented envisages doubling the solar capacity installed to date by 2030. The expansion of PV systems is to increase annually from the current 4 to 4.6 and 5.6 GW. To this end, large roof systems, for example on supermarkets, are to be put out to tender for development.

In the field of onshore wind energy, the BMWi is striving for a significant increase in ambition: Instead of the current 2.9 GW per year, about 4 GW are to be put out to tender in future.

Onshore wind energy remains the big problem child of the German energy transition. In recent years, its expansion has been steadily declining due to bureaucratic and social resistance. In 2019, only around one gigawatt of onshore capacity was installed.

Germany’s grand coalition of Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and Social Democrats (SPD) on Monday (18 May) agreed on the abolition of the solar cap and an “opt-out solution” for a standard distance for wind turbines. This is a decisive milestone for the expansion of renewable energy in Germany.

Quota for wind turbines in southern Germany

To give new impetus to the expansion of renewable energies, the amendment will remove some barriers. For example, the rules that only allow a certain amount of wind turbines to be added in a region will no longer be applicable.

In the future, municipalities will be given a financial share in the operation of new wind turbines to contain the numerous lawsuits against new construction projects. Improvements will also be made to the flow of tenants.

A special issue remains the financing of old turbines, which after 20 years are no longer entitled to EEG funding. To help their operators, they should be allowed to sell their electricity indirectly on the market via the grid operator until 2027.

New instruments in the EEG are also intended to promote the construction of wind farms in southern Germany, where expansion is still severely hampered. For example, in 2021-2023, 15% of the awards in wind tenders are to go specifically to the less windy locations in southern Germany, after which the quota will rise to 20%.

Germany’s energy transition or ‘Energiewende’, which came into force 20 years ago today, would not have been possible without the Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG). As a number of questions still remain unanswered.

Evaluation comes too late

The reactions to the long-awaited EEG draft were mixed.

Sascha Müller-Kraenner, from the green group Environmental Action Germany (UBA), spoke of a disappointing proposal. The government’s refusal to tighten the expansion targets until 2023 is “completely absurd,” he pointed out, saying valuable years will be wasted in Germany’s efforts to expand renewables.

The German Renewable Energy Federation also wants higher expansion targets. In the case of solar energy, in particular, it is demanding twice the amount proposed by the federal ministry.

On the other hand, there was praise coming from the association of municipal companies, who say the proposals are a “solid basis” for an EEG amendment which is clearly aimed at achieving the 65% target.

“The EEG draft shows that the BMWi is also significantly guided by these goals,” said Chief Executive of the German Association of Local Utilities, Ingbert Liebing.

Social Democrats demand paradigm shift

Socialist parliamentarians, for their part, were disappointed. “One has obviously not learned from the experiences of the past,” said Nina Scheer, a lawmaker from the SPD. “We have seen that the changeover to tenders in 2016 only hindered the expansion of renewable energies, but in this respect, nothing at all has been improved,” she told EURACTIV Germany.

In 2018, Scheer launched an initiative for an energy transition, in which SPD supporters are involved. Last week, they sent a letter demanding the party leadership to argue for a “paradigm shift” in the EEG. This includes above all an increase in the 2030 target to at least 75% and higher tender volumes.

Operators of renewable energy plants should be able to choose whether they want to participate in state tenders or be reimbursed for guaranteed feed-in tariffs. The current quantity limits are “the worst conceivable option” and must therefore always be a minimum target.

Scheer finds the financial participation of residents in wind turbines positive. “But this is only an economic instrument that does not necessarily promote participation. As a result, not a single wind turbine will be built any more.”

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