The federal government is planning to advance the expansion of wind power with a new law. This could also overturn existing distance rules. Forest scientist Stephan Stallmann lives in the immediate vicinity of eight wind turbines. He is chairman of the local citizens’ initiative and continues to fight against a wind farm in Lower Saxony.

There is disagreement in Emmerthal. Some praise the place because there are eight wind turbines there. The others criticize the place because there are eight wind turbines. That sounds paradoxical, but it is reality. Everything revolves around the question: is the fight against climate change more important than nature conservation and the will of local residents?

What is happening in the 10,000-inhabitant community in Lower Saxony could threaten many towns in the future. Because the federal government wants to massively promote the expansion of wind energy with the “Wind on Land” law. A comprehensive regulatory package is intended to “remove all hurdles and obstacles to accelerated expansion,” it says.

The aim is to reserve around two percent of Germany’s area for wind turbines. This could not only lead to overriding the distance rules that most federal states have set for the construction of wind turbines. The nature conservation law is also to be changed in order to enforce the project.

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The people of Emmerthal know what it’s like to have wind turbines right on their doorstep. Many of them protested against the construction of the wind farm, some still do. Even if the systems, which are a few kilometers from the town center, have long been part of the landscape since 2018, cemented into the soil of the region.

The Grohnde-Emmerthal wind farm in the district of Hameln-Pyrmont is located in the middle of the Weserbergland in Lower Saxony and consists of a total of eight wind turbines from the Danish manufacturer Vestas, each with a rated output of 3.45 megawatts (MW).

Stephan Stallmann, a 48-year-old forest scientist, is chairman of the local citizens’ initiative (BI) “No wind power in the Emmertal e.V.”, which belongs to the umbrella organization “Vernunftkraft e.V.”. “I founded the group in early 2015 to prevent development,” he says in an interview with FOCUS Online. At peak times, he says, the citizens’ initiative had between 60 and 70 members.

The will to prevent the wind farm was great. “We took legal action against the decision to set up so many wind turbines here,” says the 48-year-old, who also runs a roofing business. This could not prevent their construction.

For Stallmann, however, there are still many reasons that speak against the systems. “On the one hand, they stand at the edge of the forest or are even completely surrounded by trees. Usually there is not much wind. On the other hand, species that are protected by the wind turbines are threatened.”

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The forest scientist keeps mentioning the Fauna-Flora-Habitat Directive (FFH Directive), which he believes has been violated by the construction of the wind farm. The regulation obliges the member states of the European Union to protect natural habitats and wild animals and plants.

Stallmann is exactly how you imagine the head of a local citizens’ initiative to be. Convinced of his cause, prepared for any discussion. He became a protester when the neighboring town of Coppenbrügge was “paved over with wind turbines”, as he puts it. Only: Is Stallmann right with his allegations?

“Of course, a wind turbine is an intervention in nature that has consequences for the environment – like everything that man builds,” says Franz Mühle in an interview with FOCUS Online. Mühle works at the chair for wind energy at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), one of his main areas of focus is the expansion of wind power in Germany.

“If you are planning a wind turbine or a wind farm, an external expert must prepare a very detailed report that examines the impact of the project on nature,” he explains. According to the expert, it is therefore quite possible that a project will fall through – a red kite nest at the planned location can be sufficient as a reason.

If you believe forest scientist Stallmann, Emmerthal is home to owls, buzzards, quails, partridges, red kites and many other animals. The German Nature Conservation Union (Nabu) even had “considerable concerns about the planned wind farm”. In a statement dated July 13, 2016, he referred to FFH areas near Emmerthal and to birds that could collide with the rotor blades of the turbines.

The wind farm was built anyway. “The impact of FFH areas was already checked in the process of drawing up the partial land use plan for wind energy in the municipality of Emmerthal,” said Emmerthal municipal councilor Elmar Günzel on request. One came to the conclusion that an inadmissible impairment of FFH protection areas “does not exist”.

But that didn’t mean the residents’ protest died down. Even today, some Emmerthalers are angry. And not just because of nature conservation: Many simply do not want to live right next to a wind turbine.

A man from the citizens’ initiative lives less than a kilometer from one of the wind turbines, says Stallmann. “He has to leave the house to sleep. Because the wind turbine is blinking, it’s loud and the infrasound affects it. He says he got tinnitus from it.”

It’s an argument that opponents of wind power keep bringing up. They claim that the infrasound generated by the plants is dangerous to health. Expert Mühle sees it differently. “There are few reliable studies and no scientific findings that prove a negative effect,” he says.

And he emphasizes that infrasound is not only generated by wind turbines, but also by traffic, water currents, ocean surf and much more. So he is constantly having an effect on people.

According to Stallmann, the man who lives next to the wind turbine in Emmerthal has gone to court. He wants to use civil legal means to have the plant shut down. So that he can sleep at home again – and not have to stay with neighbors or friends. It is still unclear how the whole thing will turn out.

Stallmann rejects wind energy not only in Emmerthal, but in principle. Because you can’t store them long-term, he says. He’s not wrong about that. “The issue of storage is of course one of the very big challenges of the future, which must be tackled in any case,” explains engineer Mühle.

But there is already progress. The expert speaks of wind turbines with a lower energy density, “which already run at lower wind speeds under nominal power”. Extreme peaks in power generation could be weakened in this way. “The networks are also becoming more intelligent,” says Mühle.

In the opinion of the expert, the expansion of wind energy is an important pillar for achieving the German climate goals. He thinks it’s right to shake the distance rules for wind turbines, as the federal government is doing with the “Wind on Land” law. The federal states can then continue to decide on minimum distances, but must ensure that they achieve their wind power area targets.

Mühle is convinced: If the specifications are too rigid, “you also block possible good wind power locations where other conditions are well suited”. For activist Stallmann, however, nuclear energy is a much better alternative to combating climate change. “We want to go green, just not with wind energy,” he says.

His citizens’ initiative is now taking action against the wind farm at European level. She has joined a lawsuit by the EU Commission against Germany for violations of nature conservation law. One focus is on FFH areas.

“We want to send a signal. In Germany there are more than 1,000 citizens’ initiatives demonstrating against the expansion of wind power in their communities,” says the forest scientist. It is unclear whether there are really that many. There are also estimates that assume a few hundred.

Nevertheless, the energy transition and local residents’ protests belong together. Not only in Emmerthal, also in other German regions. The resistance goes by many names: “No wind turbines between Schwarz and Buschhof”, “Black Forest headwind”, “Parkstein homeland free of wind farms”.

Expert Mühle is rather skeptical about such protests. Of course, there are sometimes good reasons to speak out against a project. “However, in my opinion, these are only exceptions. But I think most of the protests are unjustified and overly emotional.”

The researcher goes even further: “Ecological reasons are often put forward. That promises the greatest possible success in preventing a project.”