Wind energy: the big blackout – economy

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The ascent to the green star began in a garage in the East Frisian town of Aurich. At the beginning of the eighties, Aloys Wobben screwed up his first wind turbine here. In 1984 he founded the wind company Enercon – at a time when the word energy transition was as unknown as the terms Chernobyl and climate catastrophe.

The wind power made Wobben, 67, a billionaire. Thousands of jobs were created in the Enercon empire alone with the German Energiewende, and the company has been the undisputed market leader for many years. It has set up 17,000 of the 29,000 wind turbines in the country to this day – recognizable from afar by the trademark, the green rings at the foot of the masts. Enercon and his enterprising founder stood for a green success story Made in Germany,

The story has, stand now, no happy ending. According to information of South German newspaper Enercon wants to massively reduce production in Germany. 1,500 jobs are lost at the Aurich and Magdeburg sites – and thus in structurally weak areas where the wind industry had long provided well-paid industrial jobs.

On Friday afternoon, thousands of workers learned what the Enercon plans meant to them. At the company headquarters in Aurich alone, 250 to 300 jobs will be lost. But worse it hits the production of rotor blades. It is completely outsourced to third party companies. Up to 3000 people are likely to lose their jobs altogether. "This is a very emotional situation for us," says Enercon CEO Hans-Dieter Kettwig. "The crisis of the energy transition has arrived with us." Now it's about, the Turnaround to create: a turnaround in the energy transition, a turn towards international business.

"The plants went away like sliced ​​bread"

The crisis had been apparent for months, not only at Enercon. For years the industry has gone from record to record, and with the successes, the workshops have grown. In 2015, the companies installed 3700 megawatts of wind power, in 2016 already 4600 megawatts, in 2017 even more than 5300. Enercon benefited particularly from this. The company specialized in onshore wind power, and its gearless generators have long been considered to be the technology leaders in the industry. "The facilities went away like sliced ​​bread," remembers personnel manager Momme Janssen.

Then came the break-in. By 2018, demand had already halved. In the first nine months of this year, another 150 wind turbines went to the German grid, total output: 514 megawatts. 51 of them supplied Enercon. The number of wind turbines built today at Enercon is where it started 30 years ago, in the early stages of the industry, Kettwig complains.

Between ascent and decline lies – as so often in green electricity – the policy. It had changed the system of compensation in 2017: Instead of fixed payments for each kilowatt hour delivered, wind farm projects should now compete. So who wanted a promotion for his wind turbine, had to bid in a tender. Only the projects that manage with as little support as possible should be included. That should lower the costs of the energy transition.

But the new system had side effects. First, it triggered a December fever in the industry, because as many as possible still wanted to build on the old conditions – so it came to the enormous growth of the years 2016 and 2017. In turn called wind power opponents on the plan – and with them countless lawsuits against new wind farms. As a result, the projects became less calculable and banks began to recoil. There were also special rules that were initially allowed to bid so-called citizen wind farms, although they had no planning permission.

"Politicians pulled the plug"

Windy companies used to wind up claims for wind farms without building them. "Politicians pulled the plug," says company boss Hans-Dieter Kettwig. "And we do not have a battery." And certainly not fast-loading: Even the international business can not compensate for the slump in the short term.

On the eve of the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, this not only hits employees in Aurich, but also in and around Magdeburg. There, at the site of the former heavy machinery combine SKET, Enercon was a particularly emblematic client. Instead of heavy industrial plants, the future of energy supply was created there: masts, gondolas, rotor blades.

Enercon, however, had positioned itself there "risk-optimized": Instead of producing the parts in-house, the company outsourced the production to subcontractors. Twenty-seven "production partners" receive more than half of Enercon's orders, and for some, there is not a single other client. "We're pulling the ground out of these companies," Kettwig admits. For lack of orders but you have no alternative. Enercon wants to retire orderly from the business. Which means: In the new year, many of the companies will not receive any more orders. Even now, parts of wind turbines that buyers are looking for pile up in the yard.

Unions are largely ignored

This "risk-optimized" structure had always been criticized by trade unions. Enercon consists of 70 individual GmbHs. The aim was to keep out unions as possible, insiders say. "Especially in difficult times, the company is responsible for its employees," says precautionary Meinhard Geiken, district manager of IG Metall Coast. The company should not now question, "what belongs to Enercon". Enercon, for his part, refers to the social plans, with which the first cuts were cushioned last year.

All affected plants have works councils. Enercon is not the only company that has to fight. For the green power industry, the situation is increasingly becoming déjà vu: with the solar boom of the late nineties, an entire industry has already experienced an upswing, which ended abruptly. Massively curtailed feed-in tariffs first pushed demand and then companies. They did not stand up to competition from China. Even then, it hit East German companies particularly hard, but also giants like the Bonn Solar World. In the wind, other industry heavyweights like Siemens Gamesa and Nordex are struggling with dwindling business.

In the spring, the Hamburg plant manufacturer Senvion filed for bankruptcy. There is an alarm in the affected federal states. Enercon is "one of the largest employers in the north of Saxony-Anhalt," says State Minister of Economics Armin Willingmann (SPD) and speaks of a "hard hit for the region". The federal and state governments should not allow job losses in the industry to continue. IG Metall man Geiken speaks of a "catastrophic message" for the region Ostfriesland. And Simone Peter, head of the industry association BWE, looks far beyond individual companies. "The broad-based value added network of German wind energy is losing massive stability," she warns.

Now the politics must ran. However, there is currently little indication of improvement, not even politically. It is true that the coalition has set itself the target of having at least 65 percent green electricity online by 2030. But wind turbines with more than 4500 megawatts of power would have to be built annually – especially as older turbines get increasingly older. But the reality looks bleak. "Next year, we will not see more than 1500 megawatts of additional capacity," says Jürgen Quentin, who regularly analyzes the situation for the onshore wind energy agency. "And even for 2021, a maximum of 2000 megawatts can be expected."

"We fear that this could even reduce the share of wind power on land"

The situation could even get worse. In its climate package, the coalition had set out to strengthen wind energy again. A new settlement on settlements should help to increase acceptance. But now there are plans to dictate this distance even to small settlements of a few houses. The area where new wind turbines can be built or old ones replaced would dramatically shrink. "We fear that this could even reduce the share of wind power on land," warns Tina Löffelsend, energy expert at the environmental association BUND. "The government would have driven the wind energy finally against the wall." The question arises as to how credible climate policy actually is, if even the energy transition is seriously questioned.

"We can no longer rely on Germany," says Enercon CFO Thomas Cobet. The company now urgently needs to focus on other markets. Financially, it was still solid, the equity ratio in the Enercon GmbH as the core of the group is still above 50 percent, even taking into account the significant losses, which could significantly exceed half a billion this year. Increasingly, they want to get involved in France, or in countries like India, where Enercon had a few years ago still had bad experiences.

But because towers, gondolas and rotors can not easily be shipped across the oceans, this will also have consequences for purchasing. They will be built in the future where demand is still growing. And that is not Germany.

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. (tagsToTranslate) Energy (t) Wind Energy (t) Economy (t) Süddeutsche Zeitung

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