Interview with Dr. Birgit Seeholzer,
Project Manager Climate and energy conference of the district of Traunstein
100% Renewable Energy Goal:
100% Renewable Power by 2020
[Read more about the project]
What inspired the decision for your community to pursue your 100% renewable energy goal?
The conceivable end of all fossil resources inspired the county of Traunstein in Upper Bavaria to set itself ambitious goals: to cover by 2020 the electricity demand of private households, public buildings and SMEs with 100% renewable energies. All necessary resources shall be procured from the region itself.
Traunstein abounds with natural resources: water, biomass, wind and solar energy. Aside from staying attractive as a “clean and renewable” region, the reduction in greenhouse gases and air pollution also helps to protect the several distinguished nature conservation parks in the county. Last, but not least, the creation of regional value chains for energy fosters the local economy, creates new jobs and significantly cuts the municipalities’ spending on fossil fuels.
Until now (2012), 65% of the electricity demand of the county (excluding large industries) is already covered by renewable energies.
What mix of technologies have you used and/or do you intend to use? Why have you made these choices?
For a long time, hydropower was securing the largest share (actually 47%) of all renewables, mainly sourced from small hydropower stations spread all over the county. The follow-up technology is biogas with 39% of the RE generation. PV panels (12%) and wind energy (2%) are still way below their potential, although they recently started to catch up.
In the near future, these forms of energy generation shall be strongly extended. Additionally, geothermal power shall be installed, as the pre-Alpine region is crossed by a hot water layer in medium depth.
Of course, next to the generation of electricity – whether in direct form or with CHP engines – efficiency and savings are crucial. To achieve our goals, a reduction in the energy consumption of up to 15% is necessary.
The choice for this mix of technologies naturally rests on the existing resources in the region: a broad mix of biomass sources, little rivers, above-average solar radiation and average wind velocities.
What have been the greatest obstacles so far? If you have overcome any of them, how did you do it?
In the beginning, the participation of the population was not overwhelming. But by founding task groups, with political support and the emphasis of the great advantages of local energy independence, the citizens were steadily more and more convinced. Now, several task forces and working groups meet regularly to support the county’s vision and to fill it with life.
Best-practice visits to existing sites for RE generation helped overcome initial disbeliefs into the technical feasibility and economic viability of new ideas.
The challenge for local politics is to combine many different stakeholders: traditional energy generators, nature conservation agencies, tourism offices, farmers etc. However, with a well-established policy dialogue on energy, this becomes successful daily routine.
The financing of new projects was and is a hurdle, but astonishingly by far not as hampering as initially assumed. With a combination of public funding, citizens’ own investments and companies’ means, the raising of financial resources for reasonable RE projects is not a major obstacle.
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?
Three layers of support helped the county to implement a large number of RE projects: the national EEG (German Renewable Energy law*), federal state programs of Bavaria, and local (county or municipality) incentives.
For example, the “Sonnenkreis Traunstein” (sun circle), a county-wide platform to bundle all activities regarding renewable energies, provides a sound basis for all stakeholders to inform themselves, to organize financial support, to start larger projects and to coordinate all activities. The support of the district administrator and the local politicians proved also highly valuable for many projects.
Aside from the ongoing discussions of the EEG restructuring, there were and are no significantly negatively influencing policies for our project.
What have been the greatest benefits of your project so far?
Currently, about 65% of the county’s electricity demand is produced from renewable energies. Many citizens are now convinced that the local RE plan is a good, and anyway inevitable, plan for a clean and affordable future. They participate in several task forces and thus help to push forward the local “Energiewende.”
Besides these technical and political successes, there is also a strong financial advantage: the value chains that are established to raise the local energy sources produce direct profits for the engaged stakeholders. Next to job creation, the municipalities earn taxes from the electricity production and the spending for fossil fuels has decreased significantly.
What has the process been of financing your project?
Each RE project has a different mode of financing. Diverse sources contribute to the overall vision, namely public funding on all levels, citizens’ private investments and also project investment companies. The process for the financing thus depends on the source.
One prominent example for public funding is the “Bioenergie-Region Achental + Traunstein,” utilizing national sources to promote energy investments in the agricultural and forest sector.
*The German Renewable Energy law is widely known as the German feed-in tariff law.