Vast as Ireland, prosperous and energy-intensive, Bavaria has dragged its feet in deploying the wind power essential to Germany's climate transition, which aims for carbon neutrality by 2045.

Since January, the region has installed only five wind turbines and approved two wind farm projects, which are at the bottom of the 16 German Länder.

Things seem to be moving as the federal government increases pressure on communities.

In Schnabelwaid, a village in northern Bavaria with about 900 inhabitants, the planned wind farm project in the heart of the nearby Kitschenrain forest was adopted by a hair in April after a public consultation.

13 years ago, more than 80% of residents voted against a first project of 18 wind turbines planned in the same place.

- Additional income -

A turnaround attributable to fears aroused by the total exit from nuclear power, effective throughout Germany since April, the awareness of climate change and the precariousness of local finances.

The mayor of Schnabelwaid (Germany), Hans-Walter Hofmann (l), and Maximilian Weiss, project manager at Uhl Windkraft, the company that will build and operate a wind farm in the village, in Schnabelwaid, July 17, 2023 © Christof STACHE / AFP

The municipality is "heavily indebted" and the future wind farm will "generate revenue," says its mayor Hans-Walter Hofmann.

At a rate of 0.2 cents received per kilowatt hour produced, it figures the manna to come at two million euros over 20 years of operation.

Günther Angerer, a resident, supports the project to install the turbines because "the challenge is the future of the supply of electricity for our offspring," says the retiree, on his way to pick up his granddaughter from the daycare.

Opponents of the project, for their part, do not give up: installing wind turbines by sacrificing a piece of forest is "completely contradictory with climate policy", according to Karin Bauer, of the local preservation movement for the Kitschenrain site.

"The water tables", rich in this place, "are in danger if 10 wind turbines are built there," adds his neighbor Rosemarie Ballwieser.

These and many other aspects will be studied during the project approval procedure scheduled to run until 2024.

The first blades of a dozen wind turbines, each with a total height close to 200 meters, "could turn in autumn 2026," according to Maximilian Weiss. This project manager at Uhl Windkraft, the company that will build and operate the park, currently shows them simulated on his computer screen.

Karin Bauer (r) and Rosemarie Ballwieser, opponents of the wind turbine project in Schnabelwaid, southern Germany, July 17, 2023 © Christof STACHE / AFP

The production will be able to cover the electricity needs of about 30,000 households, the equivalent of the nearby city of Bayreuth.

'Spirit of optimism'

By setting the objective of allocating at least 1.4% of the country's surface to the installation of wind turbines by 2027, and at least 2% by 2032, against 0.7% to date, Olaf Scholz's government, of which the ecologists are part, is putting the Länder against the wall and particularly the governed Bavaria Markus Söder, one of the figures of the conservative opposition CDU-CSU.

The desire not to offend a population largely hostile to works deemed unsightly in the landscape has long guided local elected officials.

In Bavaria, wind power is blocked by a specific rule setting the distance between a mast and a dwelling at least 10 times the height of the structure.

Even if this lock will be lifted de facto, the region still seems divided: "A real spirit of optimism" is blowing in the north, where "almost all mayors are involved," notes the Green deputy in the regional parliament Martin Stümpfig, elected from an area near Nuremberg.

In the south, closer to the Alps and the capital, Munich, very few projects are emerging apart from those supported by a few "villages", adds the MP.

The forest in which wind turbines are planned to be installed, culminating at 200 m high, in the municipality of Schnabelwaid, Bavaria (Germany), July 17, 2023 © Christof STACHE / AFP

An initiative of professionals in the sector called "Bayern Wind" wants to help the regional government to make a greater commitment to wind power.

The campaign to renew the Bavarian parliament in October is launched: "The outgoing government's record on wind energy is so bad that the CSU will want to address only national issues, just to divert attention," believes Stümpfig.

© 2023 AFP