Rhein on Energy and Climate

Wind and solar energy will be the two main pillars of Europe’s future clean energy supply. Though both are perfect instruments for reducing C02 emissions they generate negative by-effects for citizens living close to the areas of power generation and transmission.

This goes particularly for wind energy. One cannot install wind parks without spoiling virgin landscape and causing noise in the immediate neighbourhood. Most wind parks will therefore in future be built off-shore, in the North and Baltic Seas.

That still leaves the “view nuisance” from high-voltage transmissions lines, which will require a substantial extension across the continent.

High-voltage transmission lines, crossing the country side at some 60 metre height are not the most beautiful sight for a rural population used to a largely unspoiled nature.

During the next 10 years the EU will have to build or refit some 5000 km high-tension lines, most of them in Germany, to transport increasing volumes of wind power generated in the North and Baltic Seas to the consumption centres inside the EU. By 2030 the EU should dispose of an integrated grid linking all the Union territory.

This constitutes a huge planning and investment effort. Germany will have to carry the main burden, with grid investments of almost € 10 billion necessary to realise its ambitious share of 40 percent renewable electricity by 2020.

With a population less and less ready to accept environmental nuisances Germany and other member states will have to brace for lengthy litigation before being able to install new lines. The planning process may easily take 10 years, causing delays in connecting new wind parks to the grid. This is bound to dampen the enthusiasm of potential investors in wind parks or the grid.

Solar power generation causes much less trouble so far. The volume of electricity generated is still modest; and much of it is generated for local consumption. This will change drastically when Europe will start transmitting solar energy from North Africa.

The EU will have to tackle these politically sensitive issues without delay in view of implementing its emission targets for 2020-30. It is not enough for the Commission or the European Council to call for faster planning of projects for generation and transmission of renewable energies.

It should fix a few ground rules concerning minimum distances of wind parks and high tension grids from populated areas. Citizens will have to bear with certain inconveniences and accept transmission lines or wind parks.

As a rule of thumb, high-tension transmission lines should be away at least 500 metre from villages or towns and wind parks more than 10 km because of the combination of noise and sight nuisances.

Without some basic European rules, based on past experience in different member countries, courts might become lost in never-ending legal proceedings.

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  1. As a young European, I don’t CARE how my countryside will look like, as long as I don’t have breathing disorders or chronic illnesses from malnutrition. When are people going to start taking things seriously?

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