The change in law was implemented in August when Germany eventually transposed a European directive, passed in March 1997, on environmental impact assessment (EIA) into national law. "When it came, the change happened more or less overnight and the authorities were hardly prepared," says Christian Hintsch of German wind association Bundesverband Windenergie (BWE).
The new EIA law requires wind installations of three or more turbines to be approved under the Protection against Emissions Act. Projects of under five turbines undergo a simplified procedure, while stations of six to 19 turbines must undergo the full procedure, including public hearings and in some cases an EIA. Projects of 20 or more turbines must always have an EIP. Individual or pairs of turbines continue to be licensed under the old building law system.
Responsibility for licensing projects of three or more turbines has moved from local building authorities to state environment offices, many of which do not yet have the staff to handle the bureaucracy, according to Hintsch, with each region putting its own interpretation on the rules.
A problematic aspect concerns extensions to existing wind projects. "Installation of a single turbine next to 19 machines already operating could require an EIA at enormous cost to the operator," according to BWE's Otto Wetzig. The state of North Rhine Westfalia has declared that turbines located up to eight rotor diameters apart comprise one project. Other states have not yet decided under what circumstances the addition of one or two turbines to an existing group comprises an extension or a separate project.
The states also have disparate views on what to do when a project licensing procedure was nearly complete before the change in law. Some states say the operator should be granted the licence, others say the new law forbids this. "The federal environment ministry has set up several working groups with the Länder [states] to sort these problems," says Hintsch.
On the positive side, the new law "strengthens public participation," says Hintsch. Under the old system, projects were simply publicised in local papers, which he describes as "a passive step." Now, public participation in hearings is by official invitation. "This is more involved, but helps to rule out appeals by the public against projects at a later stage," Hintsch says. He also notes that the act gives clear time limits to procedures. This is an improvement on the pre-August situation when planners were dependent on the goodwill of the authorities, according to Kestner.
"Fears that the new system could delay wind plant construction and result in financial disadvantage to the operators are largely unfounded," says Hintsch. "The plant coming on- line during the last months of this year will have received their licenses before August," he says. There had been speculation that wind plant, originally planned to go on-line this year, would be commissioned next year due to licensing problems. In 2002, the tariff for new wind stations for the first five years of operation falls by 1.5%, from DEM 0.178/kWh this year to DEM 0.175/kWh next.