From the glass-fronted living room of his house in Ober-Ramstadt, Gunther Schulz points towards the wooded hills that rise on the other side of the valley. It is a fine view, but one that will soon be transformed. Over the next few months, workers will cut down a section of forest, pour a concrete base and assemble a pair of wind turbines whose blades will reach 200m into the sky. For Mr. Schulz, who has campaigned tirelessly against the project for years, the masts are an environmental abomination, a danger to birdlife and a threat to groundwater. They are also, in his mind, the symbol of a much greater problem: the failure of the Energiewende, Germany’s much-vaunted shift from nuclear and coal power to renewable energy: “We have more than 30,000 wind turbines in Germany now and we can’t build anymore. This has to stop,” he said.
In Ober-Ramstadt, a small town south of Frankfurt, his battle against wind power may have been lost. But the broader war is swinging Mr Schulz’s way. Construction of new wind parks in Germany has collapsed over the past year, not least in response to growing resistance from local activists. In the first nine months of 2019, developers put up 150 new wind turbines across the country with a total capacity of 514MW – more than 80 percent below the average build rate in the past five years and the lowest increase in capacity for two decades.
The sharp decline has raised alarm among political leaders, industry executives and climate campaigners. The German government wants renewables to cover 65 percent of the country’s electricity needs by 2030, a key target in Berlin’s campaign to drive down greenhouse gas emissions and help combat climate change. It has pledged to shut down the last nuclear power plants in 2022 and phase out coal power by 2038. Without more wind turbines, Europe’s largest economy could soon face an unenviable choice: scrap the climate targets or risk running out of power.