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Germany

German Town First to Require Solar Panels on New Buildings

Marburg, a German college town of about 80,000, has become the first in the country to make solar heating obligatory for newly built or renovated buildings. The green bill has some residents and politicians up in arms.

A worker checks solar panels

In the face of rising energy prices, solar panels pay off in the long run

The law, passed on Friday, June 20 by a coalition of Social Democrats and Greens, has sparked a storm of criticism in the town of Marburg in the state of Hesse in western Germany.

"We are facing a green dictatorship but nobody dares to say anything," said opposition politician Hermann Uchtmann.

Marburg's Green Mayor Franz Kahle pointed out that installing the solar panels would cost around 5,000 euros ($7,800), but the price would be offset by energy savings over 15 years. The German news weekly Der Spiegel, however, pointed out that the mayor is a tenant, not a home owner, and would personally enjoy the energy savings but not incur the cost of the panels himself.

But regardless of who picks up the tab, some feel that the first step has to be made, even if it's uncomfortable. Klaus Vajen, a solar energy expert at the University of Kassel said that "sometimes one has to twist consumers' arm for their own good."

Fines await those who don't comply

Downtown Marburg

About two thirds of Marburg's residents are students or academics

Slated to take effect on Oct. 1, the bill stipulates that the solar panels have to measure one square meter (10 square feet) for every 20 square meters of the building's surface area. Those who don't comply with the new law will face fines starting at 1,000 euros -- dramatically reduced from the initially proposed 15,000 euros.

Exceptions are to be made, however, for buildings that are principally heated from a district heating network, a combined heat and power generator, or a wood pellet oven.

Though Marburg's measures are the country's most ambitious so far, it is not the first town to take legal steps toward saving energy and slashing carbon dioxide emissions. The right-wing government in the southern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg already requires new houses to meet 20 percent of their heating needs with renewable energy sources.

In addition, the federal German cabinet recently approved a comprehensive climate plan aimed at reducing CO2 emissions by nearly 40 percent by the year 2020. The package includes higher standards for energy efficiency in new and renovated buildings as of 2009.

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