While Germany mulls over better solutions for a climate-friendly future, one northern village has already made the transition. And its residents say the benefits are worth every penny.
“I am proud of Sprakebüll. It’s great to be a part of this, to hear people from outside tell me how Sprakebüll has become known for its green energy,” says Christina Johannsen.
Johannsen runs an organic farm and shop with her husband, and customers often bring up the subject. After all, in Sprakebüll — population 255 — the energy revolution has already happened.
Right across from the shop, customers can charge their electric cars. Behind it, houses are being built for young families. And the new fire station on the corner was financed with revenue from the citizens’ wind farm, as Mayor Karl-Richard Nissen says proudly, pointing to six light-gray wind turbines on the horizon, about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) away.
‘Nothing but benefits’
“Alternative energy sources have brought us nothing but benefits,” Nissen says.
With the wind and solar plants, business taxes flow into municipal funds. “We’ve been able to build bike lanes here, and the community can do things it otherwise wouldn’t be able to,” he says.
The proceeds from the wind farm also subsidize music lessons for children in Sprakebüll, among other things, and the village’s e-car is available to all at low cost via car sharing.
Nissen says participation on a local level has been the key to success. Without it there would be no second wind farm. Not everyone on the municipal council voted for it, but the outcome was nevertheless accepted.
“The decisive factor here was not to abandon the field to large investors,” Nissen emphasizes when looking back.
Commitment and return on investment for clean energy
The first community wind farm here went online back in 1998. Villagers and farmers jointly raised the capital. Without these investments and securities on their own houses, it would have been unlikely for the banks to have financed loans of €7.5 million ($8.86 million) for the five wind turbines back then, according to one of the initiators, 73-year-old farmer Hans-Christian Andresen.
Bank loans for such projects are no longer a problem, and residents in the respective communities are very happy to contribute to new wind farms these days.
Two solar parks have also been built in Sprakebüll with public involvement. Many people here also have solar modules in their own houses.
Sprakebüll generates roughly 50 times more electricity than it consumes. And its biogas, not oil, that villagers have been using to heat their homes for the past few years: All homes in the village were connected to their own heating network in 2013. The heat is generated in a plant right next to Johannsen’s farm store, and the biogas is supplied from a farm by pipeline.
Innovation prevents rural exodus
In the 1960s, Sprakebüll had 26 farms, but today there are only three. Without renewable energy sources, “we would be a very poor region,” says Mayor Nissen.
He says that has become the case just 15 kilometers to the north, in neighboring Denmark.
“The alternative energy development has not happened in this way in Denmark. When you go there, you see how dead the villages are. Agriculture is down, just as it is here. And there just isn’t anything else there,” says Nissen.
Hans-Christian Andresen (left) and his son (right) help farmers set up solar-powered field robots like this one
And without innovative entrepreneurs like the Andresen’s, who employ 30 people, there would probably be “a big rural exodus here, too.”
His son, Christian confirms this: “I, for one, wouldn’t be here.”
The 42-year-old agricultural engineer joined his father’s company in 2007. The company builds solar plants, manages citizen wind and solar farms, and helps farmers making the transition to using solar-powered field robots.
“A lot of know-how and innovative power has emerged here and is being developed further, and solutions are being sought for what can be done with the electricity,” says Christian.
The same goes for a successful hydrogen project in Haurup, 20 kilometers away. Hydrogen is produced here from wind power using electrolysis and then fed into the natural gas pipelines.
Andresen is convinced that the planet can be powered completely by renewables by 2030, and that Sprakebüll is living proof that “it will happen much faster than many people today believe.”
This article has been adapted from German