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Germany

Storm Brewing over the Question of Wind Energy

Disagreement is gusting through Germany's coalition government at the moment over subsidies for wind energy.

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Is it a sustainable energy source or just a glutton for subsidies?

The German government is involved in a tug of war on the future of energy policy and the promotion of wind-generated power. Environment Minister Jürgen Trittin of the Green Party is in favor of expanding the use of wind power and making sustainable energy not only a household name but a household standard.

But Economics Minister Wolfgang Clement of the Social Democrats (SPD) is squarely against the mass expansion of wind power as a long-term means of replacing coal, saying subsidies for the wind power industry should be clipped, arguing that there's a danger that a new "subsidy mentality " could be developing.

"We are almost as far along in subsidizing wind energy as we are with coal," Clement told the Reuters news agency. "And we're about to beat coal, since we're planning on lowering coal subsidies in the future."

Coal subsidies will total around €3.3 billion this year, although the government is planning on reducing them to €2.7 billion by 2005.

Clement argued that the future of wind power lies in off-shore facilities and complained that some power-generating windmills on land are erected in places where the wind doesn't even blow.

Speaking in a press address in Berlin on Wednesday, the president of the German Wind Energy Association, Peter Ahmels, denied that windmills were being constructed in 'windless' zones. He said the industry had a flourishing track record and was ready for expansion, which he argued, would secure the 46,000 jobs the sector has thus far created. Ahmels criticised Clement's accusation that wind energy is too great a strain on the public purse.

"If the economics minister accuses the branch of being a rip-off, yet simultaneously pours money hand over fist into the coal industry, it would seem that we've lost our sense of judgement," he said.

Environmentalists point out Germany will have to eventually reduce its dependence on coal if it wants to achieve its goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Rapid growth

The public spat between the wind power industry and the Social Democrat (SPD) leader is unusual, since wind generation in Germany has been enjoying a boom under the current government. There are currently more then 14,000 wind power generators in Germany, more than anywhere else in the world. The country generates one third of the world's wind power. The sustainable energy lobby argues that now is not the time to put a damper on this rapid growth, particularly when many conventional power stations are in need of renovation and Germany has made it official policy to consign nuclear energy to its past.

Clement's resistance to increasing support of wind-generated power has been greeted coolly by several members of his own party. Hermann Scheer, an SPD energy expert, told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper that the government must continue to support wind energy.

"The promotion of sustainable energy sources is a real red-green coalition success story, which Clement wants to shoot down. Wind power should receive more not less promotion," he, along with deputy leader of the SPD parliamentary group, Michael Müller, told the newspaper.

Off-shore wind parks

If Jürgen Trittin has his way, then by the year 2020, 20 percent of all Germany's power will be generated by wind. There's a long way to go before such great chunks of the nation are feeding off sustainable sources, but a step in the right direction is the creation of off-shore wind parks, such as the one scheduled for construction in 2005 off the North Sea island of Sylt.

Surprisingly, the idea of such off-shore parks has whipped up a storm of controversy among environmental groups, who fear that huge whirling fans in the sea could be hazards for birds and other marine sea life. Tourism industry groups have also come forward, saying the huge turbines will mar the seascape and could hurt their business.

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