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Markus Söder: Bavaria’s NIMBY-in-chief

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Bavarian Premier Markus Söder and his predecessors spent years battling wind energy projects and high-voltage power lines they feared would spoil the state’s picturesque vistas. 

Now, no other German state is more dependent on Russian gas or nuclear power, leaving Bavaria scrambling to ensure the lights don’t go out if Moscow turns off the taps. 

Söder, who once threatened to resign as Bavarian environment minister if Germany’s nuclear power plants weren’t shut down at the end of 2022, is now campaigning to keep them running — and for northern states to compensate for the south’s shortcomings. 

While pushing for more nuclear, Söder still opposes any radioactive waste storage in his state. He also thinks more wind energy is a great idea — up north, not among Bavaria’s rolling hills — and recently suggested Germany look into fracking to secure more gas, specifically in Lower Saxony, a safe distance from Munich.

Germany’s north isn’t amused. 

“Have you lost it?” responded Lower Saxony’s Premier Stefan Weil. “Dear Markus Söder, how about wind power in Bavaria?” 

Olaf Lies, Weil’s environment minister, doubled down in a lengthy statement. Söder, “king of the NIMBYs,” was “harvesting the fruits of his own energy policy failure … and they taste bitter,” he said. 

Losing power 

A decade ago, Bavaria was a net exporter of power and had one of Germany’s least emissions-intensive electricity systems. With five nuclear plants, large hydropower resources and little coal, only about a fifth of the state’s power was generated from fossil fuels in 2011. 

That same year, Germany decided to shutter its reactors by 2022 — a decision taken by the government in Berlin, but not against Bavaria’s wishes: The center-right Christian Social Union (CSU), which operates only in Bavaria and has ruled the state for decades, called for the exit before then-Chancellor Angela Merkel did. 

A key figure in the CSU’s push was Söder, then serving as environment minister in Munich. Now, as premier, he’s fighting to keep Bavaria’s last nuclear plant running as the state fears it might face not only a gas problem this winter, but a power crisis, too. 

Over the past decade, Bavaria has turned into a net importer of power as it failed to replace nuclear with other sources. 

Nuclear still generates about 12 percent of Bavaria’s electricity — compared with 6 percent nationwide — and gas-fired power was responsible for 16 percent in 2020, compared to 12 percent nationwide.  

“In the past 10 years, we’ve almost completely lost the power generation we had tailored to our demand with nuclear power plants, and we didn’t build adequate replacements,” said Detlef Fischer, director of the Bavarian Energy and Water Management Association VBEW. 

“Our 700,000 solar plants are of little use in winter, and we don’t have any storage facilities either,” he added.

Meanwhile, accounting for both direct deliveries from a pipeline arriving in northern Bavaria and indirect imports from other states and countries, Bavaria depends on Russia for 90 percent of its gas supply, the state’s business association said in May. 

The state also relies to a significant degree on a gas storage site located in Austria, and now Vienna wants to tap that facility for its own needs. 

Concern over the state’s vulnerability has reached the federal government, whose reassessment of whether to delay the nuclear phaseout is partly driven by fears over a power shortage in Bavaria. 

Berlin’s other short-term measures to battle the gas crunch — liquefied natural gas imports and coal — will be of limited use for landlocked, coal-poor Bavaria. 

Stretching nuclear fuel into the spring could help prevent blackouts in Bavaria if a harsh winter coincides with a gas shortage and higher demand spurred by electric heater use, said Michael Sterner, professor for energy systems at the University of Regensburg. 

“But it won’t reverse a decade of energy policy failures,” he warned. 

Not In Our Bavaria 

Critics are blaming the CSU’s NIMBYist attitude for Bavaria’s energy woes. 

Thanks to a solar boom and hydropower, half of the state’s power generation is renewable. But wind power growth stalled under the CSU’s campaign against turbines.

In 2014, the party imposed a restrictive law dubbed 10H that permitted wind plants only at a distance equalling 10 times the turbine’s height from residential buildings — severely curtailing wind expansion — with a vow not to “sacrifice the typical Bavarian landscape.” 

The party also railed against “monstrous” high-voltage power lines designed to bring renewable power from Germany’s windswept North Sea coast or eastern coal power to the Alps. Bavaria eventually opted for more expensive below-ground cables; they are still not in operation. 

“Grid expansion delayed, renewables expansion torpedoed, dependence on Russia increased,” regional Greens leader Katharina Schulze said. “Because of CSU policy, our beautiful Bavaria is now particularly vulnerable.” 

The Greens are Bavaria’s main opposition, and Söder faces an election next year; while the CSU remains far ahead in the polls, the coalition’s majority is at risk. 

But criticism is increasingly coming from CSU allies. 

The conservative Free Voters, the CSU’s coalition partners in Munich, described 10H as a “mistake.” The CSU-chaired landscape and culture preservation association called for more turbines. Even bird conservationists demanded the law be scrapped.

Ilse Aigner, a senior CSU figure and president of Bavaria’s parliament, this month acknowledged that the party’s opposition against power lines had helped make the state “more dependent than others on nuclear power plants.” 

Under mounting pressure, the CSU in spring allowed 10H to be watered down to allow for the construction of 800 turbines in Bavaria. 

Industry issues 

The Bavarian state chancellery did not respond to a request for comment. Söder has so far rejected any responsibility, lambasting recent criticism as “Bavaria-bashing.”

“I think the focus on Bavaria is a little over the top,” said the VBEW’s Fischer. “The energy crisis is definitely a Germany-wide and Europe-wide problem.” 

Other states also lag behind on wind. Baden-Württemberg has been led by a Green government for a decade and turbines only cover 0.2 percent of the land, compared to Bavaria’s 0.68 percent and the federal target of 2 percent. The local government, which wanted to build 1,000 turbines by 2026, blames federal regulatory issues. 

But in the event of an energy shortage, Baden-Württemberg can fall back on coal, and the state can receive gas via France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Many eastern and central states retain significant coal power capacity, while northern states have wind. 

Fischer warned that Bavaria’s import dependence would make it particularly vulnerable if power and gas are also in short supply in the state’s neighbors. 

Sterner, of the University of Regensburg, said that even if Bavaria makes it through this winter relatively unscathed, the slow pace of wind and grid expansion would have severe consequences for the state’s economy. 

Bavaria is one of Germany’s richest states, home to multinational giants and prosperous family businesses. But increasingly, industry is choosing to settle further north — near plentiful supplies of wind power. 

Tesla’s gigafactory chose Brandenburg. Intel’s new semiconductor plant will be in Saxony-Anhalt. Sweden’s battery developer Northvolt recently picked Schleswig-Holstein, lauding the region as “Germany’s clean energy valley.” 

“Just look where the new companies are going in Germany. They want to produce with climate-neutral and affordable power,” said Sterner. “Söder’s policy risks deindustrializing Bavaria.”

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