Speaking at the Renergie conference in Hamm in June, Werner Lechner from NRW's ministry for construction and housing, the Ministerium für Bauen und Wohnen, explained the aim of REN is to initiate demand for innovative products in the renewables and energy saving sectors and contribute to improving export potential.
The REN budget was raised 50% in 1996, compared with the previous year, to DEM 48.4 million, and was increased again in 1997 to DEM 49.4 million. Since the programme started in 1988, DEM 230 million of public money has flowed into 22,000 projects. "This spending unleashed a total investment of over DEM 1 billion. In other words, for every Deutsche Mark in aid, another four-and-a-half Deutsche Mark was sourced privately," Lechner pointed out. Around 610 of the projects supported were wind turbines accounting for a total investment of DEM 460 million.
REN spurred a period of dynamic wind development in the 1993-95 period, with installed wind power capacity doubling in 1994 and 1995. But 1996 was a disappointing year in NRW, as it was for wind development in the whole of Germany, and only now is the market beginning to recover.
Just over 50 MW was installed during the first four months, bringing rated wind capacity under the REN programme to about 208 MW, generating up to 315 million kWh a year, or enough power for over 95,000 households. Only the two coastal Länder of Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony have more wind turbines. Furthermore, another 7.5 MW of wind capacity in NRW is turning without the support of REN.
Some areas of NRW are more enthusiastic in their development of wind power than others. Soest, Paderborn, Höxter and Hochsauerland have progressed the furthest, "But other climatically suitable locations in NRW are still under represented," commented Lechner.
The ministry accepts, however, that for many municipalities, wind energy planning is "a book with seven seals." An amendment to federal building law passed in mid 1996, which gave wind turbines privileged planning status in green belt areas, has been translated into NRW administrative practice. But until a regional structure plan for land usage is completed, local governments have been given the option to put all wind turbine planning applications on hold until the end of 1998.
Many local planning officials feel extremely uncertain about how to proceed and are afraid of making mistakes, says Norbert Allnoch from the Münster renewables energy forum. Plans exist for the installation of 606 MW in NRW, Allnoch says, coming close to the state government's target of 1000 MW installed rated capacity within ten years. But at grass roots level the local governments, which have sovereignty over planning, clearly need a helping hand from the state. To meet this need an advice package is available from the ministry and a brochure is being put together for local governments. At the same time an expert commission is being founded to tackle more complex wind station planning questions where normal procedures have failed.
The need for such a commission is not in doubt. One area of dispute between wind project developers and the authorities is the question of safe margins of distance between wind turbines and electricity lines. To settle the matter, the North Rhine Westfalia Ministry for Economic Affairs has commissioned a special report into the issue.
The ministry has been criticised by the Bundeverband Windenergie (BWE), the German wind association, for its recommendation that a minimum distance of three times rotor diameter between any turbine and 30 kV overhead cables is required. The BWE says the rule would exclude development many locations which, due to the presence of the cables, were especially suitable for wind installations. The study results are expected this month.