Pellworm – taking renewable energies to the next level

Community Wind Farm in the north-eastern part of the island Pellworm

Adverse winds were hard and mixed with rain when I cycled across the Nordstrand peninsula to the ferry dock at Strucklahnungshörn to take a ferry to Pellworm. The wind had not changed when I arrived on the island, so the last kilometres were hard when I cycled westwards approaching the tower ruins of the Old Church, which is also a navigational aid for ships. The last days had shown me that cycling near the sea is not as easy as it seems. Adverse winds can require more power than ascents, and they are a lot more incalculable. But this wind is one of the reasons why I came to the island Pellworm. Another one is that the history of the energy transition on Pellworm, similar as in southern Baden, goes back to the 1970s. When the solar field was first installed in 1983 it was the largest solar power plant in Europe and when it was later combined with wind power generation it became the largest hybrid power plant in Europe for a while. Today there are considerably larger wind and solar power plants. The people on Pellworm keep doing pioneer work by testing energy storage technologies and smart distribution grids.

Solarfeld des Hybridkraftwerks Pellworm
The solarfield of the hybrid power plant on Pellworm

The research into an intelligent electricity distribution grid on Pellworm started in 2013. The so-called SmartGrid improves the coordination of production, storage and consumption of renewable energies to balance the fluctuations between stormy, sunny and windless times. Besides the storage of surplus energy in a redox-flow battery and lithium batteries the production and consumption of electricity on Pellworm gets analysed. Some households on Pellworm received a so-called Smart Meter to analyse the consumption pattern and storage batteries for the energy they produce themselves with the photovoltaic systems on their roofs.

Substrat für die Biogasanlage
Substrate for the biogas plant

How come an island like Pellworm is so far ahead in terms of the development of the energy transition? On the one hand the conditions are ideal, the sun shines almost as much as in southern Baden and at the same time there is wind. On the other hand it’s again due to individual people who think ahead and think about how they can improve life on the island. Since the end of the 1980s Pellworm citizens cooperate in a working group on energy within the association „Ökologisch wirtschaften“ (ecological management) and have installed a community wind farm, a biogas plant and several small project to save energy and to increase energy efficiency.

Tower ruins of the Old Church, landmark and navigational aid on Pellworm

It is especially interesting that the main focus on Pellworm is not only on the development of a sustainable energy supply alone anymore. The goal is more integral here. „It is not only about producing „green energy“, we want to motivate the public to participate in energy saving and energy efficiency measures. It is a matter of using renewable energy to stabilise this rural area“, explains Dr. Uwe Kurzke, who is a general practioner and emergency doctor on Pellworm, „if we succed in using the revenues from renewable energies for a foundation that give finacial support to young families for the education of their children we could slow down the demographic decline. That’s why I think, it is not only about self-sufficient energy supply anymore, there is more at stake.”


Maybe living on an island is the reason why people have internalized much more that every decision has consequences for everyone and not only for the one person, who wants to benefit from it. Maybe the awareness for environmental changes is stronger if you live at sea level. The people on Pellworm set an example of what is possible and we can learn a lot from this example.
At least I learned a lot and I am very grateful to everyone who took the time to talk to me and show me their projects.

To the interview with Dr. Uwe Kurzke (association for ecological management)
To the interview with Kai Edlefsen (manager of the community wind farm)
To the interview with Henning Clausen (manager of the biogas plant)
To the interview with Werner Wulf (Schleswig-Holstein Netz AG = electricity distribution grid company Schleswig-Holstein)
Besides the interviews I also got a house tour of Christian Cornilsen‘s energy systems and a short spontanous interview with Dieter Haack (project manager at Schleswig-Holstein Netz AG).


Berlin – Citizens aim at buying the capital’s power grid

Petition and flyer of BürgerEnergie Berlin

The deadline for indicative offers for Berlin’s electricity distribution grid endet on June 2nd 2014. Apart from Berlin Energie and Vattenfall the citizens’ cooperative „BürgerEnergie Berlin“ (Citizens’Energy Berlin) submitted an offer. The senate has to examine the offers, negotiate and decide whether Vattenfall will the expiring concession again for another 20 years or whether the citizens of Berlin will participate.
On my journey to the north of Germany I reached Berlin just in time for the energy transition rally on May 10th. Matthias Futterlieb, a campaigner and volunteer of BürgerEnergie Berlin, explained me the ambitious plan of already more than Berlin citizens, who want to acchieve a citizen-owned distribution grid in the capital.

Matthias Futterlieb am Infostand von BürgerEnergieBerlin
Matthias Futterlieb at an information stand of BürgerEnergieBerlin

„We think that it is not for the benefit of Berlin, to continue letting Vattenfall operate the electricity distribution grid and have the reliable revenues go to Sweden. This money can better be used for energy projects in Berlin and partially be returned to the citizens“, says Matthias Futterlieb, „besides that, the operator of the electricity distribution grid also has an influence on a successull and funcitioning energy transition. We consider that the concession should not go to Vattenfall again.“
The „Elektrizitätswerke Schönau EWS“ (Schönau electricity company) are a kind of role model. However the initial situation has changed a lot in the last 20 years. „The EWS had to buy the local energy distribution grid to implement their concept of an ecological electricity supply and to withdraw the revenues of the grid from the previous operator“, explains Matthias Futterlieb, „that’s different today. Now every electricity distribution grid operator is obliged to also take electricity from renewable sources. With a larger proportion of renewable energy the role of the operator is changing. Now the electricity distribution grid operator has to anticipate changes in the mix of energy sources and manage them proactively. Work-to-rule is not enough anymore.
Furthermore we share with EWS the idea, that revenues from a regulated monopoly company should not go to the shareholders of nuclear and coal companies, but are better to be invested in local renewable energy production and energy efficiency.“

To the interview with Matthias Futterlieb (BürgerEnergie Berlin)
To the interview with Michael Sladek (Elektrizitätswerke Schönau)

Welzow – what’s left is the judicial process

Fringe of the open pit mining Welzow seen from the Geisendorf Manor

On June 3rd the governement of Brandenburg followed the recommendation of the Brown Coal Committee of April 28th and approved the plans to expand the open pit mining Welzow-South part II. That means that the 800 citizens of Proschim, Lindenfeld and a part of the town of Welzow only have judicial process left to save their homes and companies. In Proschim this also affects a large agricultural holding with several solar power systems and a biogas plant. During the meeting of the Brown Coal Committee Petra Rösch, manager of the agricultural company group Proschim, called this the largest expropriation in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Protest vor der Sitzung des Braunkohlenausschusses
Protest before the meeting of the Brown Coal Comittee on April 28th 2014 in Cottbus

Not only the people who loose their homes and their property are affected. The open pit mining also has consequences for the peole of the surrounding area. Hannelore Wodtke from Welzow tells me what it is like to live next to open pit mining. „Some days it is more than 60 decibels loud“, tells Hannelore Wodtke. „People, who live further away from the open pit mining, see our area as beautiful for tourism because of the many lakes. But the real difficulties, we have to live with, they don’t see. 30 kilometres away there are people who have never even seen open pit mining let alone know about the hardships and the illnesses like circulatory diseases and cardiac infarction that result from it.“

Windkraftanlagen bei Proschim
Wind turbines near Proschim

The many lakes in Lusatia seem idyllic. However the risk can’t be eliminated that areas need to be closed for the people due to the dangers from acidification, iron hydroxide deposition and landslides.
The extraction of coal from subfield II and the future flooding after the end of the coal extraction will turn the town of Welzow into a peninsula and the village Lieske will become a thin strip of land between two lakes. Some homeowners close to the open pit mining already note damage of their houses. Requests for compensation have been unsuccessful so far because the Vattenfall company claims that those are structural damages not mining damages. „Although the individual houses were built for example in 1903 or 1930 or 2000 the damages started in the year 2004 on all of them at the same time“, says Hannelore Wodtke, who co-founded a network (Verein Netzwerk Bergbaugeschädigter e.V. der Lausitzer Braunkohleregion) for seeking compensation for mining damage on May 8th 2014 together with representatives from other towns and villages affected by mining. Their goal is to establish a board of arbitration that will examine the damages with neutral reports to do the people justice.

To the interview with Hannelore Wodtke

Hannelore Wodtke
Hannelore Wodtke at the founding meeting of the network for mining damage compensation on May 8th 2014

Rohne – the things you can’t take along

Vor dem Spaziergangs gegen Abbaggerung unterhält sich Edith Penk vor dem Bahnhof von Schleife mit einem Kamerateam und Menschen aus Rohne
Before the „Walk against the deomolition“ Edith Penk talks to a camera team ant to people from Rohne infront of the train station of Schleife

During the „Walk against the demolition“ I only had the chance for a short talk with the people from Rohne, so I wanted to come there again. Edith Penk had invited me to show me the nature and landcape that will also have to give way like the people and their villages for the expansion of the open pit mining. „If you add it up the open pit mining has already destroyed 17 000 hectares of our beautiful country“, the pensioner Edith Penk tells me, „the area called „Pückler’s Jagdpark“ was full of old trees, old beeches, old oaks, pines, spruces, larches, tilia, ash trees, all kinds you can think of. Some of them were 400 years old.“ Of places like the meadow of Count Pückler’s hunting lodge and the fairy tale lake, that she told me about, I could only see deforested areas. For the amphibians of the fairy tale lake a few trees had been left for one more season, looking like a deserted island in a vast sea of deforested land. When the amphibians have left again the remaining trees will be cut down and chopped up because this area has already been approved for mining in 1994 and is now being deforested and prepared for open pit mining. Count Pückler’s hunting grounds and the natural reserve „Weisswasser primeval forest“ are history. Edith Penk and her son Christian try to save some of the rare plants by finding and marking them so they can be replanted. „You can get a licence to mark plants, that should be saved, but only in some areas and usally not until it is almost too late“, says Edith Penk, „it is prohibited by law to dig out a protected plant, but it is not prohibited that excavators and harvesters roll over protected plants.“

To the interview with Edith Penk

Die Fläche rund um den "Märchensee" im bereits 1994 genehmigten Abbaugebiet ist schon gerodet
The grounds around the „Fairy tale lake“ had already been approved for mining in 1994 and are now almost deforested

Besides the plants, that can only be replanted on a very small scale, there are also the buildings of different historical construction styles and the Sorbian field names are things that people can’t take along when they have to move. The „Vierseitenhöfe“ (four side farmhouses) are part of the typical architecture of the area. Ingo Schuster and his wife Antje live in such a house. Since 2001 Ingo Schuster put in a lot of work to renovate his „Vierseitenhof“ togehter with friends and family, like his father and grandfather had done, who had to give up their farms for mining already decades ago. „The ‘Vierseitenhof’, this style with four buildings including a barn, you can’t rebuild that elsewhere“, says Ingo Schuster, „the Saxonian building law makes it impossible. Unless you are a farmer you have no right to rebuild it like that. You won’t get the permission.“ The amount of time and work he put into his home made him very attached to this place. Some of the other people in Rohne, who did not renovate their houses, are happy to get a new house for a run-down old one. A conflict of interests has grown between those who hope for advandtages from relocation and those who want to keep their own homes. Ingo Schuster wants to stay and he plants new fruit trees along his driveway where a week ago the speeches of rally „Structural change now – stop Nochten II“ had been held.

To the interview with Ingo Schuster

Ingo Schuster pflanzt einen neuen Apfelbaum auf seinem Hof
Ingo Schuster plants apple trees along his driveway.

The alliance „Structural change now – stop Nochten II“ exists since the spring of 2013. Friederike Böttcher co-founded it after she got aware of the lack of civic participation in the inquiries procedure and the low level of cooperation between the different social groups in the reagion. They want to stop the expansion of the Nochten II open pit mining, but as the name implies they also address the underlying problem. Lusatia is an economically underdeveloped region with a high unemployment rate and low incomes. „The problem is that the thought of the finiteness of coal has not reached the people yet or more likely is conciously ignored. Even if the Nochten II pit is opened coal will last until the 2060s“, Friederike Böttcher explains, „but then at the latest the coal in the area will be depleted and the question will arise what is the future of Lusatia? Therefore we think, why should we wait that long? We ant to start now to develop perspectives for the future of Lusatia. We want that 50 years from now there will still be young people living here, who are dedicated to their region and find it is worth living here.“

To the interview with Friederike Böttcher

Friederike Böttcher beim Spaziergang gegen Abbaggerung
Friederike Böttcher at the „Walk against the demolition“

Atterwasch – searching for a different solution

The small navigation system on my bicycle stopped working properly. But it was not just because I was getting close to the Polish border, that thing was really out of order. Well, there is nothing wrong with finding my way by following road signs, but maybe with a navigation system or a better map I probably would have a taken another road. This way I ended up on a seemling endless straight road through a plantation of pines only along the edge of the Jänschwalde pit mining. In regular intervals signs remind passengers that it is not allowed to leave the road because you would enter premises of the pit mining. On a bicycle the road felt endless, so wenn I finally got out of the pine plantations the landscape around Kerkwitz, Grabko and Atterwasch with iths green pastures and small forests, cows and farms appeared downright picturesque to me.


One of the farms is the Schulz Farm in Atterwasch. Ulrich Schulz, his son Christoph and their employees work on an agricultural holding with broiler, cattle and pig fattening, a biogas plant, photovoltaic systems on the roofs, a slaughterhouse and a butcher shop during the winter month, as well as farming cropland, grassland and forests.

„Farming and producing renewable energies go together 100 percent“, says Ulrich Schulz, „the biogas plant integrates naturally into this agricultural holding. We don’t just use the input from agriculture, that is the manure and renewable raw materials, but we also use the heat for our stables, for our homes and for our commercial premises.

With a biogas plant of the capacity of 3 to 3,5 million kWh per year the Schulz Farm produces what about 1000 average households matematically need, and that is more than the people and small companies in Atterwasch, Kerkwitz and Grabko with their 900 inhabitants are using.
„Sure we want to earn money from it, wie have to earn money. However at the same time we want to show that energy can bei produced in a way that does not demolish, relocate and wipe of the mapp villages,“ Ulrich Schulz explains.

To the interview with Ulrich Schulz

Bauernhof Schulz
Schulz Farm

Four generations live on the Schulz Farm. Antje Walter, who iis Christoph Schulz’ partner, has painted the room of their little daughter. Things like that imposes the question what is worth doing if you don’t know whether or not you can stay.
That’s all well and good that they will pay for wallpaper in your new house, but this was my energy and my ideas, that I put into this“, says Antje Walter about the new houses that the Vattenfall company offers to the people who already agree to relocate.

To the interview with Antje Walter

The people concerned develope different ways of coping with the situation. „There is one group, that says: ‘We stay here, we fight and we want to save our village!’ Then there are those, who give up. And there are also some people who say: ‘Decision, money, let’s go, we can’t take it anymore’. It is quite a conflict situation“, says Monika Schulz-Höpfner, „I would summarise it by saying the social peace is has been strongly and lastingly disturbed in the communities, especially here in Atterwasch, I think.“ Monika Schulz-Höpfner has been living in Atterwasch for 30 years and has been a member of parliament for the CDU (the conservative party in Germany). In the parliament of Brandenburg the mayority is pro expanding the open pit mining. Some politicians tend to reduce her to just a person concerned. But Monika Schulz-Höpfner also looks at the positive side: „Wenn I stand in front of them I can say: ‘And I will explain you now what it feels like, what it really feels like.’“
Just talking is not enough. Monika Schulz-Höpfner wants to build up a large alliance between the government, the unions and the different social players to promote the energy transition with a broad consensus. She is worried about the more and more aggressive confrontation between workers of the coal mines, who fear to loose their jobs, and residents of the villages affected, who don’t know whether they will loose their homes.

To the interview with Monika Schulz-Höpfner

Atterwasch seen from the church tower
Atterwasch vom Kirchturm aus

Matthias Berndt has been a pastor in Atterwasch for almost 40 years. „As a pastor my task is to mediate between the disagreeing sides and to try to find a forward-looking solution. Forward-looking means that it has to be a solution that we all can live with. If one’s home is demolished he can’t live there anymore and has to move elsewhere. If one looses his or her job, they can’t live with that either and have to move“, the priest decribes. The church appointed him a special task for pastoral care in the area where brown coal is mined to advocate for the awareness that integrity of creation is a Christian task.

To the interview with Matthias Berndt

Village shop of the club for keeping small animals in Kerkwitz

To cope with stressful situation like this people also need to be able to put the open pit mining issue aside sometimes and not thing about it. At celebrations like when they set up the maypole and at the village fair there is an agreement to avoid the subject, which works more or less well. This avoidance ot the of the issue is probably necessary to get through the difficult situation as a community and as an individual person. At the opening of the new village shop in Kerkwitz the issue was also excluded to a large extend although the prime minister of Brandenburg came for a visit. It can probably be seen as a good sign that the prime minister of Brandenburg Dietmar Woidke visited the launch of a village shop in Kerkwitz on May 1st and wished it to exist for many years and decades.

Opening of the new village shop in Kerkwitz (left Ulrich Schulz, right prime minister Dietmar Woidke)

Reverend Berndt is optimistic too: „For all trembling and worrying I am rather confident because I believe that God endowed all human beings with rationality, the politicians too.“ Monika Schulz-Höpfner says time is on the side of the citizens of Atterwasch, Kerkwitz and Grabko. As the development of the energy transition procedes it will be out-of-time to sacrifice villages for lignite. She would never stop her dedication to the cause, but she hopes that she soon can say: „Now we work on completing the energy transition and only on saving our homes.“

Village fair in Atterwasch the night before May 1st