Germany entangled in onshore auction dilemma

GERMANY: Slow permitting and undersubscribed auctions is raising concerns in Europe's largest wind market.

Germany's auction system faces rising prices and not procuring enough capacity (pic: Philip May)
Germany's auction system faces rising prices and not procuring enough capacity (pic: Philip May)

Success at an auction is the only chance to secure support, but developers preferred to bunker permitted projects rather than pitch them in the last auction, resulting in the capacity volume being undersubscribed.

Meanwhile, project permitting has also slowed dramatically, leaving the country facing missed targets and high prices.

Only 604MW of onshore wind was bid into the May 2018 auction, 66MW under the maximum volume of 670MW even though a pool of 1,384MW of projects permitted since the beginning of 2017 could have participated.

As project permitting slows, reducing the number of sites qualified to take part in future auction, developers with sites able to bid are watching prices increase.

The average winning bid in May 2018 at €57.30/MWh was 21% higher than the February 2018 results of €47.30/MWh.

Uncertainty also lies in the federal government‘s promised, but not yet implemented, additional 4GW of capacity by 2020.

In 2014-2016, roughly 100-120 permits for wind turbine units totalling 300-330MW were granted per month in Germany — ignoring the permitting rush towards the end of 2016 to capture feed-in tariff support for projects implemented before end-2018.

But in 2017 and early 2018, the permitting rate plummeted to just 30-40 turbines or roughly 110MW per month, according to onshore wind agency Fachagentur Windenergie an Land.

Clearly, if the permitting continues unhurried, the 1,320MW of annual new permits fails to keep pace with German onshore auctions set for 2.8GW in each of 2018 and 2019, and 2.9GW per year from 2020.

With bigger auction volumes, the chances of winning support should be higher. But if project permitting stays at the current low level, project liquidity at auction would also be low, forcing prices higher.

"Regional planning for new projects has slowed sharply. This combined with wildlife conservation, and other issues, is blocking 2.5GW of projects for Enercon turbines," said Hans-Dieter Kettwig, Enercon managing director at its annual presentation in April 2018.

"Regional planning is far behind what we need to meet renewables targets," stressed Simone Peter, president of the German renewables association Bundesverband Erneuerbare Energien.

Problem hotspots are the states of Bavaria, North Rhine Westfalia and Schleswig-Holstein.

Bavaria's government decided in November 2014 to require a minimum distance between turbine and nearest dwellings of ten times the turbine height. This has decimated planning in the southern German state.

The North Rhine Westfalia government, keen to protect major lignite-fired power generation activities in the state, used "public acceptance for wind energy" grounds to pass a non-binding wind energy "enactment" in May 2018 setting a 1.5 kilometre minimum distance between turbine and nearest dwellings.

If the 1.5 kilometre "enactment" is taken on by communal and regional planning authorities, around 95% of land suitable for wind developments is eliminated, according to renewables association Landesverband Erneuerbare Energien NRW.

In windy northern Schleswig-Holstein, the moratorium on wind turbine permits — set up in June 2015 after a court ruling that regional planning was flawed — continues until 30 September 2018 when the new regional planning process should be finalised.

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