Viable sources of renewable energy have long been the 'Holy Grail' of environmentalists across the globe. This is one reason admiring glances have been aimed at Germany.
A new dawn for renewable energy?
Jürgen Trittin is hardly a sea-loving yachtsman, but the German environmental minister always likes the feel of a good wind. "I hope we will always have a stiff breeze," Trittin told his listeners in a speech last year.
Trittin had a good reason for making such a wish. He was speaking at a ceremony in August that marked an achievement in his political career -- the passage of the 10,000 megawatt barrier by the country's growing number of wind turbines.
Indeed, when it comes to wind energy, Germany is No. 1 in the world. According to the German Wind Energy Association in Osnabrückt, by the end of 2002, the country had 13,750 wind turbines with a joint capacity of 12,000 megawatts. On average, each of these turbines produces enough power in a year to supply 1,000 four-person households. The closest competitor is the United States with a capacity of 4,500 megawatts, according to the group.
The creation of clean energy - and jobs
"In an average wind year, the installed capacity in German can meet about 4.5 percent of the country's electricity," said Peter Ahmels, the association's president. As an offshoot of the program, the industry has created about 45,000 jobs at a time when the country's unemployment rate has steadily marched past 10 percent marker.
"Considering the otherwise negative developments on the jobs market, this is a very welcome trend," Ahmels said.
Wind power close to home.
The tail wind for Germany's turbines is being provided by a 2001 law passed by Germany's red-green coalition government. The law requires energy-delivery companies to use all power produced from such renewable sources as wind and sun, and sets a minimum price for power produced by the wind turbines. Currently, new wind turbines are guaranteed a price between 8.8 cents and 8.9 cents (9.5 and 9.6 U.S. cents) per kilowatt hour for five years. At the end of the period, the price decreases.
By comparison, the producer price of a company managing one of Germany's older nuclear power plants may be as low as 3 cents per kilowatt hour.
Greens lead push for renewable power
At the heart of the law lies the Green party's desire to protect the enviroment by shutting down the country's 19 nuclear power plants and shifting some of the burden to renewable sources of energy like wind power.
"For the foreseeable future, wind energy will be the driving force in electricity production and as a result for protection of the environment," Trittin said in the August speech.
Not everyone in Germany shares Trittin's enthusiasm for the tribunes, and their noisy propellers. From the Black Forest in the south to the North Sea islands of East Frisia in the north, groups have sprung up in protest at the tall turbines that have risen on the landscapes.
Disadvantages cause public concern
Manfred Knake is one of the island residents who has had enough. Speaking to DW-WORLD, Knake said "I don't have anything against wind energy personally." He estimates 200 windmills dot the landscape in his area. But he said he did have something against facilities that drive away birds that no longer fly to the area because they are afraid of the facilities. "We are trying to save the things that still can be saved," he added.
As part of the effort, the group he leads sent a package of documents weighing more than eight pounds to the European Commission in December 2001 to protest an amendment to a national park law that the group says restricts the habitat of some birds covered by EU laws. Last year, the commission asked the German government to provide a detailed explanation about the issue.
Josef Könning, a resident of northwestern Germany, has a more personal reason for opposing the facilities. Könning lives between two of the mills.During the day, they cast major shadows that constantly move through his house,he once told a Munich newspaper, the Süddeutsche Zeitung. And at night, they cause sleep-robbing noise. "There is always something in motion," he said.
When the land is full, look to the sea
Despite the protests, the German government is planning to press ahead with its plan. With room running out on land, officials have set their sights on setting up offshore wind parks in the Baltic and North seas, facilities that would be much more efficient than their onshore cousins. Thus far, only two of 30 possible parks have won regulatory approval, an official with the German Environmental Ministry said. And the others will have to wait in line because the approval process takes about three years to complete.