German air traffic controllers told to make room for wind turbines

Restricted areas slashed by more than half as Germany looks to expand clean energy

BERLIN, GERMANY - APRIL 25:  An air traffic controller looks out onto the tarmac following the official inauguration of the new control tower at Willy Brandt Berlin Brandenburg International Airport on April 25, 2012 in Berlin, Germany. The new airport, which will replace current Tegel and Schoenefeld airports, will begin operation on June 3.  (Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)
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Air traffic controllers have been told to make space for wind farms as Germany leaves no stone unturned in its search for clean energy supplies.

Empty land that was kept clear to avoid interference with radio beacons could be released to developers under proposals announced on Monday.

Air traffic agencies will have to adapt by upgrading their beacons and accepting a higher margin of error when they calculate a plane’s position.

Their objections to new wind parks could be ignored as long as a seven-kilometre radius is left — down from 15km.

Wind turbines have long competed for space with radio beacons but the energy industry’s need is deemed greater at present as Europe looks for sources of clean fuel.

Germany is striving to offset Russian gas cuts and be free of Russian fossil fuels by 2024, while meeting clean energy goals to make Europe’s biggest economy carbon-neutral by 2045.

Economy Minister Robert Habeck, the most senior Green party figure in the government, said air navigation would still be safe but that getting planning permission for wind turbines would become significantly easier.

Germany wants to devote two per cent of its surface area to wind farms to meet its clean energy goals. AP

Boundaries are drawn around radar beacons because of concerns that wind parks will cause interference and throw navigation into confusion.

The height of turbines, typically about 80 to 100 metres on land, means they must be kept well clear of runways to avoid obstructing a flight path.

As well as air traffic, questions have been raised about the impact of wind turbines on ship navigation and weather radar systems.

But officials in Germany said the acceptable margin of error in navigation could double in some places because of recent technological progress.

“On the basis of the latest scientific findings, we have made it possible in a very short time to reduce the safe distances between wind turbines and air navigation,” Transport Minister Volker Wissing said.

“This will lead to a quicker expansion of wind power generation. We have now removed a significant obstacle in this process.”

German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said flight navigation would remain safe. Reuters

Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s coalition government has a target of using two per cent of Germany’s total surface area for wind power.

The target was agreed in a coalition deal last year along with a rule that solar panels should be installed on every suitable new roof.

Since then, the energy standoff with Moscow has made Europe’s need for alternative supplies more acute than ever as Russia reduces gas exports.

Germany has prolonged the life of some of its old coal plants but has so far resisted pressure to keep using nuclear power beyond a December deadline.

Using more renewables is one strand of a four-part strategy by the European Union to end its reliance on Russia, along with buying gas from elsewhere, reducing wasteful consumption and increasing mutual interconnections.

Updated: August 02, 2022, 11:52 AM