How a German Village Created an Independent Grid and a Renewable Energy Future
By Laurie Guevara-Stone
Regardless of debate about the success of Germany’s renewables revolution, there is no denying that a small town in the corner of rural eastern Germany, 40 miles south of Berlin, may be one of the best examples of decentralized self-sufficiency.
Feldheim (population: 150), in the cash-strapped state of Brandenburg, was a communist collective farm back when Germany was still divided into East and West. Now, it is a model renewable energy village putting into practice Germany's vision of a renewably powered future.
In 1995, a local entrepreneur paid for Feldheim’s first wind turbine. As farmers started to worry when prices for their milk, potatoes, and beets began to fall and energy prices started to rise, they learned they could earn cash by renting their land to energy companies wanting to install a wind turbine. A local renewable energy company, Energiequelle GmbH, saw the potential as well, and decided to install a wind farm in Feldheim. Forty-three wind turbines with an installed capacity of 74.1 megawatt (MW) soon dotted the Feldheim landscape, providing income to farmers who leased their land to the energy company.
Renewable fervor was catching on, and in 2008 Energiequelle bought a 111-acre former Soviet military site about five miles from Feldheim, cleaned up the toxic military waste and hidden ammunition and constructed a 284-panel solar farm that produces over 2,700 MW hours per year. Its power is fed into the grid at the feed-in-tariff rate.
That same year, the town of Feldheim and Energiequelle established a joint venture, called Feldheim Energie GmbH & Co. The new company built a biogas factory that converts pig manure and unused corn into heat, taking advantage of the community’s 700 pigs and 1,700 acres of arable farmland. The biogas plant is fed from the town’s agricultural cooperative and produces of electricity a year. A 400-kilowatt, wood-chip furnace fueled by the byproduct of forest thinning helps to firm the power from wind and biogas.
By 2009 Feldheim was producing all its own energy with renewable sources. Residents then wanted to take things a step further and free themselves from the large utility company, E.on, which was supplying the grid.
E.on refused to either sell or lease the part of its energy grid that ran through Feldheim. So the people took the matter into their own hands, and decided to build their own. Each of the 150 residents contributed 3,000 Euros (~$4,000 at today’s exchange rates) so that they could build their own smart grid. With help from Energiequelle and financing from the European Union and government subsidies, the smart grid was completed in 2010, making Feldheim then the only town in Germany with its own mini-grid. This allows the locally produced heat and electricity to be fed straight to consumers and gives them control over their electrical prices, which are set at community meetings.
They now pay 31 percent less for electricity and 10 percent less for heating than before. The town consumes less than one percent of the electricity produced annually by its wind turbines and solar panels, selling the rest back to the market. This lowers their electricity bills to around half the national average. The biogas plant not only sells electricity back to the market, but also supplies the entire community with heating, saving over 160,000 liters of heating oil each year. As an added benefit, the plant produces over three million gallons of high-quality fertilizer annually that the agricultural cooperative uses.
Feldheim has also installed a plug-and-pay EV charging station in the town center, and next plans to install a 10-MW battery later this year. The storage will help balance the community microgrid’s generation and load.
There are now more wind turbines than houses in the town. While residents don’t mind the noise or aesthetics of the wind turbines, there has been some opposition from neighboring towns, which didn’t—until recently—directly benefit from the wind farm. “In order to make neighbors feel more at ease with the wind farm, we are offering power at a special rate,” Energiequelle spokesman Werner Frohwitter told Rocky Mountain Institute. “Our aim is to let as many people as possible directly benefit from our turbines, thus encouraging social acceptance for renewable energies.”
All the renewable projects also created jobs. While other villages in the economically depressed state of Brandenburg have roughly a 30 percent unemployment rate, Feldheim virtually erased its unemployment. Most residents work in the biogas plant or maintain the wind and solar farms. And the town, which has not a single museum or restaurant, has seen an influx of visitors. Three thousand people visit the small town of 150 each year. This has prompted the foundation of a new organization, Förderverein des Neuen Energieforums Feldheim (Friends of the New Energies Forum Feldheim), which is converting an old inn into a renewable energy information and training center. The hope is that when the center opens in the fall of 2014 it will bring even more visitors to Feldheim, generating more jobs and income for the villagers.
Feldheim has proven that a high-renewables energy future is possible today. “There have been and are still occurring remarkable changes (in Feldheim),” says Frohwitter. The small town is thriving thanks to its confidence in renewable energy technologies.
Visit EcoWatch’s RENEWABLES page for more related news on this topic.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.