But one woman brought a successful case in the northwestern city of Münster back in 2006. She lived just 270 meters away from a wind turbine. She based her plea on the "requirement to be considerate," under which technical equipment and machines cannot be located so close to a residential property that they become "visually oppressive." The experts talk of a "feeling of being dwarfed."
After a long battle, she won the case -- and the giant turbine was torn down.
Other legal grounds can also apply. According to the German Emission Control Act, noise levels in mixed-use residential areas may not exceed 45 decibels at night. For a long time, no one knew what that meant exactly in terms of distance in meters.
Now the courts have ruled on this, too, in a case that might just upset Germany's entire energy revolution. A woman from Marxheim, a town in western Bavaria, brought a case in the Munich Higher Regional Court. Her typical farmer's house, decorated with flowers, was situated 850 meters from an Enercon E-82. She claimed that the sound waves boomed "across field and forest" to where she lived.
The case documents talk of "hissing," "whizzing" and "puffing noises." A specialist in acoustics recorded a volume of 42.8 decibels, adding a further 3 decibels to this because of what is known as the "impulsiveness" of the noise.
The result? The wind turbine now has to operate at a reduced speed between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., which renders it unprofitable.
Enercon is appealing to the Federal Administrative Court. But its chances of winning look slim. Hundreds of propellers are located in the zone that has now been deemed forbidden. Could a large-scale thinning out of turbines now be in the cards?
Attorney Armin Brauns from Diessen, in Bavaria, is predicting a "wave of cases," and his office is overflowing with case files. "Some local authorities behave unfairly with respect to protecting the countryside, circumventing existing laws," he says.
Bloated Capacity and Costs
These disputes come at a very awkward time for the wind-power industry. The country is expecting to see many thousands of new wind turbines up and running in the near future. But, at the moment, orders are few and far between.
For a long time, the companies grew fat on feed-in tariffs, which provide guaranteed prices for green energy at above-market prices subsidized by the government via surcharges on consumers' power bills. Indeed, an entire industrial sector developed into a subsidy giant. The result? Bloated firms with excess capacity.
International markets are also collapsing, which makes things even worse for the industry. The two most important countries for wind power have both reigned in further construction projects. The United States is instead going for cheaper "fracking," the controversial method of using hydraulic fracturing to extract shale gas. China, on the other hand, has problems with its power grids, which is dampening its enthusiasm for wind turbines.
Stephan Weil, the governor of the northwestern state of Lower Saxony, recently warned that 10,000 jobs in the state's wind industry were at risk. The Danish manufacturer Vestas has already been forced to cut some 1,400 positions.
The mood is correspondingly tense. The CEO of WeserWind says that a "regulating hand" is nowhere to be found, leaving everything in "total chaos."