Eco-Blowback: Mutiny in the Land of Wind Turbines

Some pioneering projects are already underway, such as that in Ellern, a small town in the low mountain range of Hunsrück in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate. Ellern has recently become home to a record-breaking wind turbine some 200 meters tall, or far above the treetops.

Semi-trailers pulled nacelles, the enormous housings for wind turbine engines, and transformer stations up the narrow forest roads. A 1,000-ton crane made its way up the slippery slopes to the peak; trees were felled at the side of the road to make way for it. At the top, the forest was cleared to nothing with chainsaws so that concrete foundations could be laid for the turbines.

No one knows what the impact of such activities will be on the flora and fauna. The offensive into this mountain range took place "without checks," protests Germany's Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU). In any case, the group says, the idea of generating wind power in the forest should be "rejected on principle."

Lies and Deception

The decision to not build offshore wind farms turns out to be misguided not just for environmental reasons, but also for economic ones. At sea, turbines can achieve 4,500 full-load hours a year. By the coast, the figure is 3,000. Inland, a site is considered good if it produces 1,800 hours.

The turbines currently being built across Germany, from the Ore Mountains in the east to Lake Constance in the west, are weaker still. Statistics show that the turbines in the south of the country are generating significantly less power than was predicted. The biggest wind farm in Baden-Württemberg, at a height of 850 meters in the Northern Black Forest, has been a flop for years.

"It's all an enormous swindle," says Besigheim-based auditor Walter Müller, 65, whose former job involved calculating the value of bankrupt East German factories. Today, he takes the same hard-as-nails approach to examining the books of wind farm companies.

His verdict? A fabric of lies and deception. The experts commissioned by the operators of the wind farms sometimes describe areas with weak breezes as top "wind-intensive" sites to make them appear more attractive, he says. "Small-scale investors are promised profits to attract them into closed funds for wind farms that do not generate enough energy," he says. "Ultimately, all the capital is eaten up."

The wind turbines, whose job it was to protect the environment, are not running smoothly. Germany's biggest infrastructure project is a mess. Everyone wants to get away from nuclear. But at what price?

Even Winfried Kretschmann, the governor of Baden-Württemberg and the first Green Party member to govern any German state, is sounding contrite. But his resolve remains as firm as ever: "There is simply no alternative to disfiguring the countryside like this," he insists.

The question is: Is he right?

Translated from the German by Nick Ukiah

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