Chemical triangle: Wind power from the forest – Bavaria

The factory chimney of the Gendorf chemical park towers 186 meters above the factory premises near Burgkirchen. From the village square of the small municipality of Emmerting, three and a half kilometers away as the crow flies, it is easy to see over the forest – even at night when the red lamps that surround the chimney in three rings are lit. Soon more position lights could be seen from here at a similar height, apparently flashing to the rhythm of the rotors. Because the industry here in the Bavarian chemical triangle consumes enormous amounts of energy, and at least a small part of it should come from the region in times of climate crisis, energy transition and Ukraine war.

30 to 40 wind turbines could be built in the Altöttinger and Burghauser forests, it was said when Prime Minister Markus Söder (CSU) announced “the largest onshore wind project in Germany” in December. He didn’t particularly emphasize the word “project”, although much larger wind farms have long existed in many northern federal states. But by Bavarian standards, the project is of a whole new magnitude. Confidence is growing in the chemical triangle, but now also resistance.

The municipal council of Emmerting, for example, recently did not say no directly to the “Backwind ChemDelta” project, which was initiated by the interest group of the local chemical industry and which the Bavarian State Forests and the district office in Altötting are currently pushing forward with vigour. However, the yes of the respective municipality, which the state forests absolutely need as a condition of their supervisory board, did not come from Emmerting either. The community is right in the middle of the project area, exactly between the Öttinger and Burghauser forests. “We simply don’t have enough information,” says Mayor Stefan Kammergruber (CSU), who says he feels overwhelmed by all the people who are suddenly carrying wind turbines “like a monstrance.” One must be allowed to criticize without immediately being seen as an opponent, says Kammergruber. “All around the wind turbines, I have to make sure that I don’t get dizzy.”

A village mayor could also get dizzy if suddenly 150 listeners crowded into the council meeting because there were suddenly posters in the village and a leaflet in every mailbox. That’s how it was recently in nearby Kastl, where the 150 listeners in the packed meeting room then applauded when Mayor Gottfried Mitterer (FW) and the parliamentary group spokesman announced that they would not agree to the wind farm for the time being. The “Gegenwind” activists use the Telegram messenger service to arrange who will put up which posters and drop leaflets. The open group there, with almost 250 members, was set up by Altötting city and district councilor Günther Vogl from the AfD, whose party is currently trying to direct criticism of the planned wind farm to its own mills.

Wind power, that is “maximum forest destruction with minimum electricity yield,” says the leaflets, among other things. Thousands of trees would be felled, birds, bats and insects would be killed by the rotor blades, and local residents’ real estate would be depreciated. The main argument of the skeptics and critics, however, is that the wind blows much too erratically and much weakly over Bavaria’s southeast.

Annual yield per wind turbine? Twelve million kilowatt hours

Rainer Droste, who is responsible for wind power at the state forests, opposes this. According to the Bavarian wind atlas, there are wind speeds of 5.3 meters per second at a height of 160 meters above the ground, which is roughly in the Bavarian average and also enables wind turbines to be operated profitably elsewhere. Peter Beermann doesn’t think it is necessary to take another wind measurement, as some local councilors would have liked to have before making a decision. The “wind caretaker” for Upper Bavaria appointed by the state government estimates the annual electricity yield per wind turbine at at least twelve million kilowatt hours and confirms that the values ​​from the wind atlas have mostly been well confirmed and that every project developer will make their own measurements anyway. This can be done parallel to the species protection investigations, which last about a year.

The state forests want to have found one or two project developers, each investing a three-digit million amount, planning the exact locations and later possibly operating the systems themselves, through a bidding process by May. From the approximately 5,000 hectares in total that the forest area between Altötting and Burghausen includes, they have deducted all water protection areas, flora-fauna habitats and similar protected areas, the distance corridors along the Alz and the major roads as well as all those areas that are less than one kilometer away from the nearest housing estate. A little more than 1300 hectares are left. Mathematically, they would be enough for around 50 wind turbines, but according to Droste, Head of State Forests, they will be even less because of biotope and species protection.

The 1300 hectares are spread over nine different communities. After eight city and municipal councils have voted and only two were not in favor, from the point of view of the Altötting district administrator Erwin Schneider (CSU), not much can come between them. Emmerting, with its share of 128 hectares, “doesn’t make the herb fat now” and the forest near Kastl is mostly a water protection area anyway. As far as the city of Neuötting is concerned, to which the largest sub-area, 374 hectares, belongs, the state foresters are not yet clear enough about the yes of the councilors, which is subject to certain conditions. However, Mayor Peter Haugeneder (SPD) is quite surprised about this, and an agreement is foreseeable.

Citizens can become shareholders

According to the state forests, the citizens of the municipalities concerned should be able to participate in the project – but above all economically, for example as shareholders or as members of a wind cooperative. The right to have a say in the approval will be limited to mere statements from the municipalities – first of all in the case of the change in the regional plan that has already been initiated, which has so far expressly excluded wind turbines in the Öttinger and Burghauser forests. According to the will of the state government, the individual planning regions, in this case south-eastern Upper Bavaria, should each define 1.8 percent of their area as areas for wind energy, which the Free State as a whole must also identify in ten years. This is what the federal wind-on-shore law, which has just come into force, provides for.

There will be no shortage of customers for electricity in the chemical triangle. “I can assure you that we’ll take the electricity as it comes,” says Peter von Zumbusch, plant manager at Wacker-Chemie in Burghausen and chairman of the ChemDelta association. Wacker wants to halve its CO₂ emissions by 203o and be climate-neutral by 2045, which will require huge amounts of green electricity. Industry in the chemical triangle already consumes around five terawatt hours of electricity a year, around one percent of total consumption in Germany. In the best-case scenario, the targeted 40 wind turbines should generate a tenth of the amount currently required.

However, the demand in the Chemdelta is likely to at least double soon and could be much greater if the companies have to produce the hydrogen required as a raw material themselves due to the lack of a pipeline. The hoped-for “tailwind” will only be a small contribution, which supporters and critics evaluate differently. The state forests, on the other hand, are turning a big wheel with the project, because they only have a total of 101 systems in their forests.

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