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Not In My Back Yard
Germany’s Latest Green Problem Is Spelled N-I-M-B-Y

Germany’s rapid rollout of renewables has jacked up power bills, but that’s not the only manner in which it’s upsetting concerned citizens. As the New York Times reports, Germans have mobilized to block the construction of new power transmission lines that would connect new sources of renewable supplies to areas of higher demand:

Most of [Germany’s wind turbines] are in the north of the country, near Denmark and the Netherlands, or off the coast in the North Sea. The majority of Germany’s electricity demand, however, comes from some 400 miles to the south, in the factories and corporate headquarters of Bavaria.

Transporting electricity from the place where it is generated to the place it will be used means installing high-voltage power lines. But while renewable energy is extremely popular among the German public, power lines are not.

Public protests against construction have been influential enough that, in July, the country’s governing coalition had to agree to bury high-voltage lines wherever possible — a move that could raise the cost of those lines by billions of dollars.

Green energy isn’t immune to Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) problems, and in fact because of the more distributed nature of renewables, can in some ways run afoul of local landowner concerns more easily than more centralized fossil fuel or nuclear plants.

And as Germany is discovering, you don’t just have to worry about where to site your wind turbines and solar panels. You also have to make sure that those new supplies can physically meet demand; you have to plug them in to the grid. Berlin has been slow to update its grid to keep up with its recent renewables-at-any-cost energy policy, and as a result its network stability—and that of its neighbors, as well—is being undermined by its new intermittent sources of power.

But building out a power grid isn’t a simple task by any means, and NIMBY concerns only compound the difficulty of the task ahead for Germany. Berlin hoped to set an example for the world with its green energy transition, its energiewende, and in that respect it can claim some measure of success: other nations can look to the German example and see how poorly green dreams directly translate to reality.

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