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High-Voltage Power Lines Awaken the German NIMBY

Never mind that the lines are needed to carry renewable energy from wind turbines in the north to industries in the south to meet the nation's formidable carbon reduction policies. Public health and property values come first for some neighbors.
December 30, 2014, 5am PST | Irvin Dawid
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Germany set an impressive clean power goal "to reach more than 40 percent renewable power by 2025," writes The New York Times Berlin-based correspondent Melissa Eddy. It's related to another goal—meeting "the accelerated shutdown of Germany’s nuclear plants in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster in Japan in 2011 which has inched the country back toward a greater reliance on coal," she writes. "Germany already draws nearly a quarter of its annual power from renewable sources."

Instrumental to meeting both goals and reducing reliance on dirty coal power is the construction of "four high-voltage direct current lines" to transmit wind power. Building those lines may be the biggest obstacle to attaining the nation's green goals.

(C)itizens living in the areas proposed for the half-mile-wide transmission lines say they worry that the magnetic fields from the lines could harm their health. (So far, most scientific studies have not found a significant threat. In 2006, the World Health Organization said [PDF] static electric and magnetic fields had no adverse health impact, but public fears persist.)

But it's not just a matter of public health concerns though. As most any affordable home builder in the United States knows all too well, affected homeowners fear a loss in property values.

For the general public, the fear is a little bit irrational,” said Philipp Gerbert, who works for the Boston Consulting Group, which provides information on energy for its clients. “But for those particular individuals actually affected, the presence of a transmission line means the value of their property goes down.”

"The government, in legislation speeding up the lines’ construction, said the public would have a part in the planning process," writes Eddy. Some of main questions the public is asking include:

  • Are the lines necessary?
  • Can they be undergrounded? [Yes, but too costly for entire lane]
  • Can the routing be changed—to other peoples' backyards [hence the NIMBY term], but also to undeveloped, protected lands?
"If the lines are not built, supporters said, the stress on the existing power grid will be enormous," Eddy writes. In addition, they claim that "(t)he country could be pushed back toward more coal or nuclear power."
Full Story:
Published on Friday, December 26, 2014 in The New York Times
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