Citizens invest millions: three Bavarian communities show how wind energy can work

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Monday, February 12, 2024, 11:49

When a community plans a wind energy project in its area, it often sparks anger and protests, especially in Bavaria. But not in the cities of Sauerlach, Otterfing and Aying, south of Munich: not only are there no complaints, but the citizens themselves invest millions. How that?

When it was all over, after two hours and 23 minutes, Michael Falkenhahn was left speechless. “This is crazy,” the SPD mayor of Otterfing told FOCUS online Earth a few days later. On January 29, the community of 4,600 inhabitants south of Munich made a very special offer to its citizens: whoever contributes at least 500 euros and a maximum of 25,000 euros to the construction of wind turbines in the nearby Hofoldinger Forest will receive a proud type of interest. six percent annually. For the campaign, Otterfing partnered with the neighboring communities of Aying and Sauerlach.

The so-called “crowdfunding” began at ten in the morning on a specially created website and ended at 12:23: in less than two and a half hours the planned amount of six million euros had already been reached. The citizens had broken down the doors of the three communities. “My forecast was that in one or two weeks we would raise between three and four million,” says Falkenhahn. But he didn't expect it to happen so quickly.

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“I wrote to my son: Exhausted”

The three Bavarian communities have been planning to build a wind farm in the common forest for ten years, which is nothing extraordinary. But while the construction of a wind farm in the forest provokes debates and protests elsewhere, here, south of Munich, citizens are, at best, unhappy that it came too late to invest.

Kurt P. is one of the lucky 1,000 shareholders who invested in a timely manner. “I think it's a civic duty,” Sauerlacher tells FOCUS online Earth on a cloudy Wednesday afternoon. He has always been in favor of green energy and gladly supports projects of this type. In total, around 19,000 citizens live in the three municipalities of Otterfing, Sauerlach and Aying.

However, things got tough for many other residents. “It all ended very quickly,” reports a citizen of Sauerlach: “We barely made it.” She invested with her husband, as did her son. However, a friend was less lucky. She said she would do it tonight, but by then she was already done. After two hours and 24 minutes I texted my son: 'Exhausted.'”

The lack of “headwind”

Mehring's example shows how things can be different. This small town in the southeast corner of Bavaria recently torpedoed the largest energy project in the history of the Free State. The competent district of Altötting is also planning to build a wind farm, in which 40 wind turbines will be built, ten of them in the municipality of Mehring.

The “Headwind Altötting” initiative arose from the resistance of the population. They organized a citizen initiative against wind energy and managed to convince the majority of residents. In the referendum, 928 votes were against and only 454 in favor of the project. Now those responsible for the project have to go back to the drawing board; those who have worries have the advantage.

In the Hofoldinger Forest it is different: although there were also actions against the wind energy project in the region, over time they “disappeared into oblivion,” says Falkenhahn. At first some citizens were concerned, especially about the protection of nature and species, but they also knew how to address it.

Dialogues and profits

What have Otterfing, Sauerlach and Aying done better in this regard? For him, the most important thing is: “Take all concerns seriously,” says Falkenhahn. “Of course, there were critical questions, which were also justified.” They tried to address this openly and transparently. At several events, neighbors were able to ask questions and express criticism, which were addressed together with the citizen participation group “Energy and Environment.” In this way many “myths of power” could be removed, says the mayor. “The fears and worries are there.” Therefore, it helps to engage in dialogue and talk to avowed opponents.

Another key point: In Otterfing, Aying and Sauerlach, citizens can directly benefit economically from the construction of the wind turbines, unlike many other similar projects. Citizen participation is an important step, says Falkenhahn, since “no company left in the middle” contributed greatly to the positive environment: We are three municipalities and citizen participation. His demand: Federal and state policy should create a better framework to make it easier for communities to “put their hat on such things” in the future.

“Two hearts in my chest”

As mayor, Falkenhahn, like his Ayinger colleague Peter Wagner, invested in the project himself. “There are two hearts beating in my chest,” he says. On the one hand, as mayor, he is convinced of the project and that is why he wants to set a good example. On the other hand, says Falkenhahn, he has long been of the opinion that “in beautiful Upper Bavaria, too, the days are over” when people could afford to give up measures that made a positive contribution to climate change because of the beautiful view.

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Citizens obviously see the same thing. “I would have liked to invest 5,000 euros,” Liane H. de Sauerlach tells FOCUS online Earth. Like many others, she did not expect that the planned sum would be reached so quickly. She thinks it is better to invest the money there than in the bank.

He is also clear: in the energy transition, people have to change and, if there is another green energy project in his district, he will surely not waste it. Despite her disappointment at the missed opportunity, H. remains confident: “If everything goes well, maybe a new opportunity will arise.”