For Thomas Kutschaty the matter is clear. “We have to be more flexible there,” said Kutschaty, referring to the rigid 1,000-meter distance rule that made it so difficult to find space for new wind turbines in North Rhine-Westphalia. Kuchaty is the SPD’s top candidate for the state elections on Sunday.
Kuchaty has announced the goal of 200 new wind turbines per year. In an interview with n-tv, the 53-year-old explained how this is supposed to succeed: “About local commitment.” It is also a question of acceptance, whether the profits from a wind turbine go to a public company in Essen, for example, or to the citizens would benefit locally. On the other hand, it would be embarrassing if, like his rival Hendrik Wüst from the CDU, you boasted that you had already built 26 wind turbines this year.
Hendrik Wüst is Prime Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia. He only came into office six months ago as the successor to Armin Laschet, who did not return to the Düsseldorf State Chancellery after losing the federal election. In the CDU, they are now hoping for a tailwind for NRW thanks to the outstanding victory of incumbent Daniel Günther in Schleswig-Holstein. And indeed, Wüst and Günther have one thing in common: the mediating style of politics – they are not agitators.
In his energy and climate policy, Günther often takes a line that deviates from the federal CDU. This also applies to Wüst to some extent: the CDU in North Rhine-Westphalia wants to stick to the strict distance rules. Against the background of possible energy bottlenecks, he also advocates the suspension of shutdowns for coal and nuclear power plants. But Wüst supports the plan to phase out coal by 2030. The federal CDU is still struggling with this – especially in the east German coal states.
The dispute about the distances between the wind turbines could continue after the election, however, on a federal level. As the “Bild” reports, the traffic light coalition even wants to abolish the minimum distance to residential buildings – after the election night. This emerges from a draft bill reported by the newspaper. Literally it should say: “The previous state opening clause in § 249 paragraph 3 BauGB for the introduction of state-legal minimum distances for projects according to § 35 paragraph 1 number 5 BauGB, which serve the research, development or use of wind energy, should be repealed.”
According to the current legal situation, the federal states are allowed to define their own minimum distances to wind turbines. That would be the end of it now. However, the existing rules should continue to apply. That would probably be important for Bavaria, where it is regulated that the height of the wind turbine multiplied by ten is the minimum distance to it.
The CDU continues to resist taking back the minimum distance. “With systems as high as the Berlin TV tower, 1000 meters distance to apartments is the minimum,” quotes the “Bild” Jan Redmann, parliamentary group leader of the Brandenburg CDU.
In NRW, however, the climate election campaign goes beyond wind power. For Reiner Priggen, head of the state association for renewable energies in North Rhine-Westphalia, the energy and climate policy of the largest federal state can only go uphill with a new state government – even if it continues to be led by the CDU and Wüst. “The difference is that Armin Laschet was not at all interested in progressive energy policy. Wüst is at least interested,” Priggen told the Tagesspiegel. You no longer have to convince Wüst of the benefits of renewables.
His Borken constituency is one of the municipalities with the most wind turbines in NRW – they are an important economic factor for the local companies. The only thing black and yellow have managed to achieve in terms of good development in the expansion of renewables is the approval of photovoltaics (PV) on listed houses. “Otherwise they didn’t do anything – it was a disaster,” Priggen summed up.
The Greens member, who also sat on the coal commission, can name many things where the black and yellow state government missed potential. In Schleswig-Holstein and Baden-Württemberg, for example, it is possible to build PV systems along the autobahn – this has not been the case in North Rhine-Westphalia so far. Or the expansion of wind power on damaged forest areas. “We have a huge problem with the bark beetle, which has already destroyed 130,000 hectares of forest for forest farmers. The farmers would have a new source of income if wind turbines could be built on the heights of the forests,” said Priggen.
Are the environmental organizations going along with this? If the nature conservation NABU has its way, the future state government in the Bundesrat should work to delete the privileges for wind turbines in the building code. Under Wüst, the first paths were taken to enable the expansion of wind power in forest areas. The SPD wants that too. The SPD is also open to an earlier exit from coal.
The SPD is also committed to preserving the five remaining villages at the Garzweiler opencast mine. The topic is particularly important to the Greens. Just recently, the party led by top candidate Monika Neubaur accused the state government of not supporting the villages. When it comes to structural change, the SPD economic politician Sundermann certifies that the incumbent state government has failed. “The Rhenish Revier focuses too much on the research landscape,” said Sundermann.
The SPD wants to create the settlements of medium-sized companies in particular by integrating them into the emerging research landscape in the Rhenish Revier. Spin-offs are already creating new jobs. For Sundermann, the path leads to renewables. “Tesla went to Grünheide because of the renewables. Northvolt went to Schleswig-Holstein with the prospect of renewables. And not a single battery cell production came to NRW because it just got damn difficult with the expansion here.” They now want to change that quickly.
The SPD also wants to set up a transformation fund with a volume of 30 billion euros to support industry on the way to climate neutrality. Against the background of the Ukraine war, the topic has gained even more importance. “The high energy prices have made investments so expensive. For the climate, however, precisely these investments must be made now, according to Sundermann. The fund will help with that.