VLAB: A small association with a great impact on wind energy

Last year, there was not a single application for permission to build a wind turbine in Bavaria. In the first half of 2022, a total of only three new wind turbines were added, according to a written question from Mr Martin Stümpfig in July. “These numbers are ridiculous,” says the green politician. For him, wind energy – as well as for the federal government – is an important and irreplaceable pillar in achieving an independent and climate-neutral energy supply. However, expansion in Bavaria practically stopped. Why?

Complaints about the 10H and VLAB rules

Stümpfig says the 10H rule, which says that a wind turbine must be at least ten times further from a settlement than it is tall, is not to blame on its own. Another complication for planners is that conservation organizations often complain about the new systems. “We have incredibly high lawsuit rates compared to countries,” says Stümpfig.

In many cases, it is VLAB, the “Association for Landscape Protection, Species Protection and Biodiversity”. About 8,000 members, a relatively small initiative based in Erbendorf in the Upper Palatinate. While large conservation organizations such as Bund Naturschutz and LBV are now advocating wind power and see climate change as a much greater threat to species conservation, the VLAB has repeatedly battled wind energy projects.

Currently, against the wind farm in Pfaffenhofen on Ilm in Upper Bavaria, which is supported by a civic energy cooperative, that is, city residents. Green MP Stümpfig accuses the VLAB of bringing lawsuits against wind power as the main target.

VLAB: “We only complain from time to time”

Johannes Bradtka, chairman of the VLAB, strongly disagrees. Wind power and renewable energies only account for about 15-20 percent of the association’s work, says BR. “We only make appeals against wind energy sporadically, when we see the protection of endangered species,” says Bradtka. However, he could not provide a list of previous court cases.

Mostly honorary members of the association are also involved in biodiversity or have positions in road construction and surface sealing projects. According to Bradka, the association supports the energy transformation and treats climate change as a serious threat. This, however, cannot be managed by wind energy. Rather, geothermal energy, photovoltaics and biogas plants for processing organic waste are the key.

VLAB: The 10H Rule is an “ecological masterpiece”

In addition to the arguments in favor of species protection, the history of VLAB can also explain its negative attitude to wind energy. The rector of Spiritus was the conductor Enoch zu Guttenberg, who founded the association in 2009 and – as President Bradtka says – also provided him with financial resources. Towards the end of his life, Guttenberg made the fight against wind energy his mission. He resigned from BUND because he supported wind energy and, in his opinion, neglected the protection of nature.

As Prime Minister Horst Seehofer, VLAB was recognized as a nature conservation association in 2015. First in Bavaria, but also nationwide in 2019, which gave him the right to sue in associations throughout Germany.

In early July, VLAB awarded the Enoch zu Guttenberg Medal for the first time: Horst Seehofer was honored for his contribution to environmental protection. The 10H principle, which the former prime minister introduced in 2014, is his “ecological masterpiece”, as he puts it in his praise.

The Easter Package creates a new legal framework

What’s next? The so-called “Easter package” of the federal economy minister Habeck (the Greens) may make it difficult for VLAB to slow down the expansion of wind energy through lawsuits. The amendment to the act sets binding targets for wind energy in the federal states. If not followed, distance rules such as 10H may also be omitted.

Green MEP Martin Stümpfig says it is crucial to say that the use of renewable energy sources will be “overriding public interest” in the future. This means that species protection lawsuits would be dismissed more quickly and less likely to be successful.

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