As Germans Block Danish Wind, a New Feud Tests Crisis-Weary EU

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Danish Wind
A wind park can be seen as morning breaks in Copenhagen. Denmark, the Nordic region’s biggest wind-power producer, generated a record 39 percent of its electricity from wind last year, according to the country’s energy agency. Photographer: Axel Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images

The Danes generate excess wind power. The Germans, their neighbors, are seeking to ramp up their use of clean-energy sources.

A perfect match, right?

Not quite. In a growing spat that is undermining the European Union’s 150 billion euro ($160 billion) program to strengthen the bloc’s electricity links, leaders in Bavaria and other German regions are turning down wind power from the north. Their biggest objection is the aesthetics of it all: New transmission lines would have to be put up across centuries-old German towns to bring in more of the electricity.

For the wind companies, the losses are starting to add up. The Danish Energy Association estimates that Nordic generators are missing out on $87 million in annual sales as the Germans reject as much as 71 percent of the electricity being sent over from mainland Denmark.

“What’s taking place on the interconnectors goes against all the vision of the internal market -- free flow of goods and services across borders,” Carsten Chachah, a senior adviser at the Danish Energy Association, said April 9 by phone. “The problem is getting worse.”

The opposition is strongest in Bavaria, Germany’s largest state and home to companies including Allianz SE, BMW AG and Siemens AG. It has the biggest share of Germany’s solar power production and wants to have generating plants fueled by natural gas make up the gap in electricity production when the sun isn’t shining. Protesters argue that new power lines would be eyesores as well as health hazards.

Mayor’s Opposition

Heiko Hain, mayor of Weissdorf, said the high-voltage lines needed to ease the jam in the north would be a blight on his 14th-century town, located 500 kilometers (300 miles) south of the Danish border.

“We aren’t convinced the line is needed and instead support local generation,” Hain said by phone. “It could go through a sports field and residential areas and make it hard to plan industrial development.”

Bavarian Premier Horst Seehofer, a political ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, also opposes the north-south lines in his state and more than 90 protest groups have sprouted across the country. Their opposition is at odds with the EU’s vision of stronger electricity links among the bloc’s 28 states. The goal is to double interconnection capacity by 2030, according to the European Network of Transmission System Operators.

German Grid

The German power price for 2016, a benchmark for Europe, fell 0.2 percent to 31.90 euros per megawatt hour on Friday, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The contract has slipped 3 percent this year, touching a record-low 31.20 euros in January.

Germany must spend at least 22 billion euros on its power network by 2025 to cope with the biggest clean-energy push of any industrialized nation, the country’s four grid managers said in November. The plan includes shutting all nuclear plants by 2022 and building high-voltage lines connecting the windy north to the south.

“The problem is it takes so long to build these lines due to local political opposition,” said Fabian Grote, an industrial engineer hired by grid operators in Germany and Denmark to analyze the effect of cross-border power flows. “Bavaria especially would rather have their own gas power plants to ensure security of supply than these big high-voltage lines.”

Sweden shipped 1 terawatt-hour of electricity to Germany through the Baltic undersea cable last year, or about a fifth of the capacity of the 160-mile connector that began operations in 1994, according to Nord Pool Spot AS data. Power flowing from west Denmark to Germany was throttled down to 29 percent of the cable’s capacity during 2014. A terawatt-hour is enough to power 40,000 Swedish homes for a year.

Combined Growth

Germany and Scandinavia, power-trading partners since the 1960s, have earmarked at least $3 billion for more cross-border links. Denmark is planning a 700-megawatt upgrade to its western cable and is working on a 400-megawatt connector from eastern Denmark by 2019. Norway plans to build a 1,400-megawatt cable to Germany by 2020.

“It’s quite a waste of money,” Phong C. Le, head of Nordic trading at Energi Danmark AS, said April 7 by phone from Aarhus, Denmark. “They are spending a lot building this capacity but they’re not using it fully.”

The export limitations mean Nordic utilities can’t sell their surplus power abroad, resulting in a domestic glut. In Denmark, the number of hours that generators had to pay consumers to take the excess electricity tripled last year from 2011, Nord Pool data show.

Danish Record

Denmark, the Nordic region’s biggest wind-power producer, generated a record 39 percent of its electricity from wind last year, according to the country’s energy agency. That’s expected to increase to more than 50 percent by 2020, according to the Danish Energy Agency.

Germany got about 26 percent of its electricity from renewables in 2014, a share it intends to boost to 45 percent in the next 10 years. Wind generation made up about 35 percent of total renewables last year, while solar accounted for 22 percent, according to the German Association of Energy and Water Industries, a lobby group.

Grid managers in northern Europe are working on ways to sidestep the German congestion. Denmark and the Netherlands are planning a 700-megawatt power line for 2019, the first interconnector between those countries. Norway and Britain agreed on March 26 to build a 1,400 megawatt link that will be the longest sub-sea power line.

Ulrike Hoerchens, a spokeswoman for TenneT TSO GmbH, the grid operator in northern Germany, said the company follows Germany’s rules on calculating transmission capacity, which will increase with the upgraded cable to Denmark. Jesper Noerskov Rasmussen, a spokesman for Danish grid Energinet.dk, said the blockage would continue until Germany’s network grows.

“The huge expansion of the grid should ultimately increase capacity,” he said.

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