Interview with Bertram Fleck,
Chief Administrative Officer of the County Rhein - Hunsrück, Germany
100+% Renewable Energy District
Goal Achieved: 100+% renewable power
- 236% renewable power by 2014
- 507% renewable power by 2020
- 828% renewable power by 2050
- 100% net zero emissions heat and transportation by 2020
[Read more about the project]
1. What inspired the decision for your community to pursue your 100% renewable energy goal?
Initially the exploding energy-prices of the late 1990s encouraged us to start controlling the energy consumption of all county-owned- and school-buildings (energy-efficiency - and saving - is a sleeping giant).
The more we devoted ourselves to this subject, the more further ideas topics came into our focus: the finite nature of fossil fuels in this century, the dependence on energy-exporting-states, the dramatic effects of carbon dioxide on the climate with expenses of up to four-digit billion Euros, and the opportunity of converting export-costs for energy into local creation of value and the generation of jobs.
After taking a number of individual measures, we had the potential of all our sources of renewable energies analyzed by several universities, and concepts for an energy- and climate protection conception were developed. These are put into practice by us with the help of many contributors. The energy turnaround can be managed, and it means a great opportunity for our country. As far as electricity is concerned, we have already been able to produce 104 % of our whole power consumption from renewable energies, making us to an exporter of electricity.
2. What mix of technologies have you used and/or do you intend to use? Why have you made these choices?
We have planned no particular mix of technologies, but have tried to win over as many participants in the whole region as possible. These are the people who are able to put into practice the activities related to renewable energies in their respective fields. Our county has set a good example by laying the focus on energy efficiency and energy reduction in the reconstruction of old buildings and new buildings (especially school-buildings).
Later we demonstrated at three school-centres that we work together with the communities, building up a heat supply by the thermic processing of tree- and shrub cuttings from private gardens.
A solar survey map has also been created, in which every citizen of the county can check via the internet whether the roof of his/her house is principally suitable for the installation of photovoltaics.
We then equipped all the suitable roofs of our own buildings with photovoltaics, we arranged a special-loan program with the local banks, which can also be utilized by private persons. In this way, a total of 3000 roofs has been equipped with photovoltaic installations so far.
In the sector of agriculture, there was the intention of building biogas plants, supported by the possibility of growing renewable resources. The building of biogas plants has been carried out by 14 farmers.
Our communities are owners of large amount of acreage, especially wooded areas of various qualities.
The communities have generously designated areas (even mostly leased them) for the building of wind power plants in their land development plans there, where the power of the wind promises to gain a reasonable return and where are no obstacles concerning nature protection. (This has always been gladly supported by me). My administration has in fact permitted 200 wind power plants so far, which form the central point of electricity generation in our region (another approximately 130 plants are in the authorization process).
In the area of hydropower, we are not able to show any results, as the River Rhine is a major traffic pathway in Germany. Because of this, the Federal Republic of Germany does not support erecting dams belatedly, which could contribute to electricity generation.
3. What have been the greatest obstacles so far? If you have overcome any of them, how did you do it?
In the early stages, the strongest impediment was the lack of know-how among the only 400 employees of my county administration. There were no specialists who knew about the subject of renewable energies. As a consequence, I dispatched one employee (an architect) to several professional developments and also to conventions and conferences, in order to exchange experiences with those who had already focused on the subject of renewable energies.
The political committees also had to be convinced, in particular where in the first instance additional costs superficially emerged. It was most helpful here that the state of Rhineland Palatinate supported the one model project or other financially.
During a later stage, taking part in contests helped us very much, above all whenever we were able to obtain an award (e.g. European Solar Award). That showed us that we were on the right track. It also strengthened our motivation and conviction. We could obtain stimuli and examples from the competitors, which we adapted to our situation.
It is very important to integrate the population at a very early stage to conduct information events and to answer the population’s questions. The awareness for the necessity of renewable energies is not very distinctively developed yet.
The problems many citizens have due to the alteration of the landscape by the erection of wind power plants can be minimized, if the community does not lease the respective areas to third parties, but erects and runs the plants itself in the form of citizen participation models, cooperatives or non-commercial foundations. Every citizen who takes a share with a relative small amount of money directly benefits from the influx of returns. In most cases, it is possible to obtain electricity produced by wind power plants at reduced prices. This increases acceptance substantially.
4. Were there policies that were particularly effective to helping your project advance? Were there any policies or regulations that stood in your way, and if so, how have you handled this?
One important strategy is to implement measures concerning renewable energies that are not isolated and case by case, but based on an overall concept. For this purpose we had an energy and climate protection concept worked out by several universities. This concept constitutes a guideline for all measures for the next 10 – 20 years. In this way, mistakes can be avoided that can emerge if there is only a short term view. It is also important that such a concept is initially implemented in small steps in such a way that visible success can be shown as quickly as possible. A positive sentiment will develop, if already after a short term, results are obtained that years ago were thought to be unimaginable.
We cannot implement this concept alone. It is necessary to win over a large number of participants to implement it together with them - e.g local communities, private citizens, schools, crafts, industry. We have always taken a leading role and exerted a role model function in our region. It is only in this manner that others will follow quickly.
Unfortunately, some long-time legislation on the level of the federal states and the Federal Republic of Germany has inhibited adaption to the requirements of renewable energies. One example is that until ra year ago (2012), there were legal regulations in the municipal code of the federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate that did not allow a county or community to produce more electricity than it could use for its own consumption. It was hard work to change this, and ultimately, others also derived benefit out of the change of regulations.
Data protection also caused difficulties when we published the data of our solar survey map. We were allowed to show which roofs are suitable (divided into various grades) for photovoltaic installations, but we were not allowed to put the specific single data of any given roof on the internet (number of modular units, generation of kilowatt, estimated purchasing price, feed-in compensation, funding).
As far as historic landmarked buildings are concerned, the responsible controlling authority holds the opinion that photovoltaic installations on these buildings is principally not permissible. However, there are recent court rulings that demand the weighing between the interests of monument conservation and the interests of renewable energies. If one argues less about percentages and ideologies, but rather puts the aims concerning the expansion and conversion of renewable energies into practice, one reaches results in a relative short time. This is a pleasant surprise for many people and gives them a good feeling. This alone presents the first tangible benefit related to renewable energies.
5. What have been the greatest benefits of your project so far?
Fifteen years ago there was no energy production within my whole county. Right now there are over 3.200 plants for the generation of renewable energies. From these energy sources we produce more electricity than is consumed in the whole county – making us to an exporter of electricity. I myself have not considered this growth possible. This growth also has the consequence that we can observe an enormous local creation of value. This for a start refers to the investments for the plants, from which the local crafts benefit on a large scale (construction companies, electricians, gardeners, metalworking industries, transport companies, road-building companies, restaurants, hotels, engineers, consultants).
In the process of running the plants there emerge positive follow up effects, like jobs in annual services and maintenance works, continuous rents and fiscal revenues in particular for the communities, corporate earnings, net income for employees and earnings for every plant operator based on the Renewable Energy Law. The Agency for Renewable Energies in Berlin has scientifically examined this creation of value within my county. According to their results the sum of added value in the year 2012 alone was 23 million Euros (30 million US Dollars). In the same Period of time import costs for fossil fuels as high as 12.3 million Euros (16 million US Dollars) were saved and is still counting. If all planned plants are authorized by my administration, two years from now there will be a sum of about 30 million Euros (39 million US Dollars) of local added value, money that will remain in our region. Since 1990 the emission of carbon dioxide has been reduced by 309 thousand tons, which is a great benefit to the climate.
6. How have you been financing the effort so far, and what are your plans for doing so to achieve your final goal(s)?
The large number of activities demands an adequate employment of staff, which is covered by the budget of the county.
In the sector of residential buildings, which accounts for about 40 % of the total energy expenditure, all additional costs for a passive house standard or plus-energy-house pay off, due to the savings in expensive energy costs, within 10 to 15 years. The building and running of renewable energy plants pay off even with a high rate of external financing, due to the feed-in tariff ensured by the Federal Republic of Germany for the duration of 20 years.
At the moment, we pay a climate protection manager, whose task is to put the 92 scheduled measures into action in the next years. The personnel expenses for the climate protection manager are rapidly re-financed, if one offsets the savings of every scheduled measure. By the way we do not want to do each and every thing ourselves, but we want to give stimuli for craftsmen, industry and private citizens to take action themselves in the area of renewable energies.
It is very helpful that the Federal Republic of Germany together with the federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate conducts consumer protection advice in four larger communities within the county, i.e. every citizen can ask for advice there for free. Aside from that, the energy agency of the federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate will soon set up 10 branch offices to advise counties, communities and tradespersons. We will receive such a branch office in our county because the federal state has noticed that our county has achieved great success in the realization of renewable energies. The aforementioned both measures and will set new stimuli in our region.
Needless to say, it takes a long process to sensitize the whole population and make them participate, but this definitely is a matter of generations and cannot be mastered within two to three years.