A ruling by Germany's Federal Court of Justice is forcing utility companies to buy renewable energy, even though it costs over ten times more than conventionally-produced power.
Germany produces one-third of the world's wind energy.
Germany's Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe has ruled that the country's renewable energies law EEG does not violate any constitutional rights. The legislation guarantees wind turbine operators and solar energy producers much higher market prices for their ecological power.
The ruling came about after the regional electricity company Schleswag in northern Germany took its case to court. It had refused to comply with the law, claiming that it violated its entrepreneurial freedom. The company did not want to be forced to feed in power generated by several wind turbine operators in the region. The minimum price requirements also posed an illegal subsidy, Schleswag said.
The EEG stipulates that German utility companies pay a minimum of €0.48 ($0.56) per kilowatt hour to purchase energy generated by wind power, compared to €0.03 to €0.05 for conventionally produced electricity.
The judges in Karlsruhe said in their ruling that despite the liberalization of the German energy market, utility companies still carried a particular responsibility to environmentally-friendly energy production. The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg already in 2001 ruled that the EEG did not represent indirect government subsidizing.
The world leader in wind energy
Federal Environment Minister Jürgen Trittin welcomed the court's decision on Wednesday. He said he expected the major power providers to give up their resistance to renewable energies.
"Renewable energies are a central element of the federal government's environmental and energy policies," Trittin said in a statement. "I assume that utility companies will get used to it."
According to the Environment Ministry, the proportion of renewable energy in electric power consumption has jumped from 4.6 percent in 1998 to around 9 percent currently. One-third of wind energy worldwide is produced in Germany with its 14,000 wind turbines. "The economy, the labor force and the environment can profit from a strong expansion in renewable energies," Trittin said.
Berlin's pet project
According to a recent study by Shell, renewable energies will contribute at least 50 percent of the worldwide energy use by 2050. Germany - together with Japan, Denmark and the United States - belongs to the world leaders in expanding its renewable energies market.
This sector has been a pet project of Trittin's, who is a member of the environmentally-friendly Greens party. Since the coalition government of Social Democrats and Greens took power in 1998, state-aided programs sparked a boom in wind and solar energy units.
Wind turbines in particular began popping up everywhere. Many operators went public and collected hundreds of millions of euros for their expansion plans on the stock market. But the gold rush seems to be coming to an end, as this sector is simply running out of space.
Although there are new projects for wind turbine parks planned off the North Sea coast, the financing is still not settled. The solar boom is also waning. Last year, only about 65,000 new solar energy units were set up, half as many as in 2001.
Germany - with its over 16 million square feet of solar panels - is the number two in the photo-voltaic sector after Japan. But the proportion of solar energy in Germany's power production is still less than one percent.