Power Masts Munich Pulls the Plug

For Germany to deliver wind and solar power, it needs to build high-voltage, overhead electric lines into Bavaria. But residents there don't want the visual clutter, and local leaders are threatening to pull the plug on the nation's prestige energy project.
Not in my backyard.

 

For months, supporters and opponents of proposed high power lines in the state of Bavaria have waited for the results of a survey of public sentiment on the controversial issue. But anyone expecting clarity during its presentation on Monday was rewarded with a lot of political waffling.

“The biggest challenges can only be solved at the federal level,” said Bavarian Economy Minister Ilse Aigner, effectively shirking responsibility to her boss, Bavarian state premier Horst Seehofer.

By kicking the political can down the road, Ms. Aigner has failed to clarify the future of a power corridor, which is considered crucial to ensuring Germany’s electricity supply as the country shifts to renewable energy sources.

Mr. Seehofer’s Christian Social Union, which is the Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats, agreed in 2013 to the government’s plan to build two high-voltage power lines through his southern German state. But Mr. Seehofer has called them into question in the light of citizen protests opposed to having overhead power lines nearby.

But Bavaria desperately needs the new power infrastructure, as two nuclear reactors at Grafenrheinfeld and Gundremmingen are scheduled to be taken offline in the coming years. The new power corridor is meant to fill that gap by sending a surfeit of clean wind energy from northern Germany down south to Bavaria. The country’s current grid capacity is considered too weak to handle the load.

The business community has warned Mr. Seehofer against putting provincial considerations ahead of national interest.

On behalf of Mr. Seehofer, Ms. Aigner has spent the last few months talking to citizen groups, business leaders and energy experts in an attempt to resolve the contentious issue. Both the state’s industry and trade unions fear that, without the new power corridor, electricity supplies will become unreliable after the reactors are shut down.

Many experts believe at least one high-voltage line is necessary to guarantee Bavaria’s power supply in the coming decade. Ms. Aigner, who is considered keen to succeed Mr. Seehofer as state premier in a few years, said on Monday that “technically” it would be possible to do without both power lines. However, that would lead to huge price increases for power in the Bavaria, which is home to industrial giant Siemens and luxury carmaker BMW.

Michael Fuchs, the deputy leader of the conservatives parliamentary group, expressed his frustration with his Bavarian colleagues on Monday: “Somehow power has to get from the north to the south.” He told Handelsblatt that everyone involved, including Mr. Seehofer, needed to work towards a solution to keep Germany’s transition to renewable energy on track.

A spokesman for the grid operator 50Hertz said Bavaria’s energy dialogue was merely “one voice of many” and that the company was curious to see how the federal government and national energy grid regulator, the Bundesnetzagentur, would respond.

 

Proposed Power Corridor-01

 

The business community has warned Mr. Seehofer against putting provincial considerations ahead of the national interest. Ulrich Grillo, the president of the BDI industry lobby group, said individual states should not be allowed to jeopardize the country’s transition to renewable energy.

Ms. Aigner said Bavaria was still pushing for subsidies for new gas-fired power plants in negotiations with the federal government. “We need clear promises from the federal level this year,” she said, adding that this would determine how necessary the new power lines would be.

German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, however, currently rejects any new funding for gas plants. According to information obtained by Handelsblatt, Mr. Gabriel and Mr. Seehofer are planning a private meeting later this week to decide the future of the power corridor.

 

Thomas Sigmund is Handelsblatt’s Berlin bureau chief. To contact him: [email protected]