In one tiny German town, nobody worries about energy bills

Sep 29, 2022, 6:51 AM | Updated: Sep 30, 2022, 8:46 pm
The surface of a solar panel is pictured in Feldheim near Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday, Sept....

The surface of a solar panel is pictured in Feldheim near Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Located about an hour and a half south of Berlin, the village of Feldheim has been energy self-sufficient for more than a decade. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

(AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

FELDHEIM, Germany (AP) — Europeans are opening their energy bills with trepidation these days, bracing for hefty price hikes as utility companies pass on the surging cost of natural gas, oil and electricity tied to Russia’s war in Ukraine. Many are trying to conserve by turning down the heat and shutting off lights this winter.

Not so the people of Feldheim, population 130.

Located about an hour and a half south of Berlin, this modest but well-kept village has been energy self-sufficient for more than a decade.

A bold experiment launched in the mid-1990s saw Feldheim erect a handful of wind turbines to provide electricity to the village. Then it built a local grid, solar panels, battery storage and more turbines. A biogas plant put up to keep piglets warm was expanded, providing extra income to the farmers’ cooperative, which pumps hot water through a village-wide central heating system. A hydrogen production facility is also under construction.

Now, 55 wind turbines can be seen but not heard on the sloping farmlands around Feldheim and residents enjoy some of the cheapest electricity and natural gas rates in Germany.

“They can all sleep well at night,” says Kathleen Thompson, who works for a local educational organization, the New Energies Forum. “They’ve got no concerns because the prices are not going to change, not in the immediate future anyway.”

Feldheim’s hands-on approach to producing its own eco-friendly energy draws thousands of visitors from around the world each year and contrasts with the way Germany as a whole still relies on fossil fuel imports for much of its needs.

That became painfully apparent when Russia invaded Ukraine, upending the reliance Germany and other European countries had on Moscow’s coal, oil and natural gas.

Despite Germany pumping billions into the growth of renewable energy to reduce climate-changing emissions, fossil fuels and nuclear were responsible for more than half of the country’s gross power production in the first six months of the year.

A lack of sufficient transmission capacity means wind parks in the north regularly have to be shut down while fossil fuel plants are fired up to provide electricity to factories in the south.

Letting locals participate in — and benefit from — the project was key to Feldheim’s success, said Michael Knape, mayor of Treuenbrietzen, a municipality to which Feldheim belongs.

While wind parks elsewhere in Germany often face opposition, including some economically depressed neighboring villages, Feldheim’s close-knit community approved so many turbines that it actually exports about 250 times as much electricity as it consumes.

“Citizens need to feel that it’s their transition and not one imposed from above,” Knape said.

But he also credits authorities at the time with not interfering in what he describes as an “experiment” that could have failed. It fell into a legal gray area that officials elsewhere might have clamped down on.

“In Germany, you sometimes get the impression that if someone makes a mistake then it’s a huge problem,” Knape said. “But it’s only in that way that we make progress.”

Feldheim’s grassroots approach to generating clean energy contrasts starkly with the prevailing practice in Germany, where large energy companies tend to build and control vast power projects. Small-scale efforts, meanwhile, often face high regulatory hurdles.

Still, Knape is hopeful that Germany’s energy transition can catch up with Feldheim.

“I’m firmly convinced that given the current pressure in Europe … it’s become clear to everyone that we need to approach this differently than before,” he said.

While Feldheim’s approach can’t be copied everywhere, such projects can be a big part of the solution, Knape said. “Many little Feldheims could supply at least parts of Berlin.”

Siegfried Kappert, 83, is similarly optimistic. Born and bred in Feldheim, he enthusiastically paid the 3,000-euro (dollar) fee to connect his home to the electricity and heating grids when they were built.

That investment has paid off manifold since, with lower energy prices for him and the village, which has no unemployment and was recently able to afford new pavements, streetlights and a cultural venue in a converted barn topped with solar panels.

Kappert laments that longtime former Chancellor Angela Merkel allowed Germany to become dependent on Russian energy and feels her conservative Union bloc, now in opposition, should stop sniping at the new government.

“They should work together, that would be the right way,” he said.

Kappert, who as a child saw the Red Army roll in at the end of World War II, then grew up under communism in East Germany and saw his world turned upside down again with reunification, said Feldheim’s success is a source of satisfaction.

“We looked for a path and found one,” he said. “I can say, quite honestly, that we’re proud of this.”

___

Follow all AP stories about climate change at https://apnews.com/hub/climate-and-environment.

___

Follow Frank Jordans on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/wirereporter

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


              The surface of a solar panel is pictured in Feldheim near Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Located about an hour and a half south of Berlin, the village of Feldheim has been energy self-sufficient for more than a decade. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
            
              The surface of a solar panel is pictured in Feldheim near Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Located about an hour and a half south of Berlin, the village of Feldheim has been energy self-sufficient for more than a decade. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
            
              The surface of a solar panel is pictured in Feldheim near Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Located about an hour and a half south of Berlin, the village of Feldheim has been energy self-sufficient for more than a decade. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
            
              The surface of a solar panel is pictured in Feldheim near Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Located about an hour and a half south of Berlin, the village of Feldheim has been energy self-sufficient for more than a decade. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
            
              The surface of a solar panel is pictured in Feldheim near Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Located about an hour and a half south of Berlin, the village of Feldheim has been energy self-sufficient for more than a decade. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
            
              The surface of a solar panel is pictured in Feldheim near Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Located about an hour and a half south of Berlin, the village of Feldheim has been energy self-sufficient for more than a decade. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
            
              The surface of a solar panel is pictured in Feldheim near Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Located about an hour and a half south of Berlin, the village of Feldheim has been energy self-sufficient for more than a decade. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
            
              The surface of a solar panel is pictured in Feldheim near Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Located about an hour and a half south of Berlin, the village of Feldheim has been energy self-sufficient for more than a decade. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
            
              The surface of a solar panel is pictured in Feldheim near Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Located about an hour and a half south of Berlin, the village of Feldheim has been energy self-sufficient for more than a decade. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
            
              The surface of a solar panel is pictured in Feldheim near Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Located about an hour and a half south of Berlin, the village of Feldheim has been energy self-sufficient for more than a decade. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
            
              The surface of a solar panel is pictured in Feldheim near Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Located about an hour and a half south of Berlin, the village of Feldheim has been energy self-sufficient for more than a decade. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
            
              The surface of a solar panel is pictured in Feldheim near Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Located about an hour and a half south of Berlin, the village of Feldheim has been energy self-sufficient for more than a decade. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
            
              The surface of a solar panel is pictured in Feldheim near Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Located about an hour and a half south of Berlin, the village of Feldheim has been energy self-sufficient for more than a decade. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
            
              The surface of a solar panel is pictured in Feldheim near Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Located about an hour and a half south of Berlin, the village of Feldheim has been energy self-sufficient for more than a decade. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
            
              The surface of a solar panel is pictured in Feldheim near Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Located about an hour and a half south of Berlin, the village of Feldheim has been energy self-sufficient for more than a decade. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
            
              The surface of a solar panel is pictured in Feldheim near Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Located about an hour and a half south of Berlin, the village of Feldheim has been energy self-sufficient for more than a decade. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
            
              The surface of a solar panel is pictured in Feldheim near Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Located about an hour and a half south of Berlin, the village of Feldheim has been energy self-sufficient for more than a decade. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
            
              The surface of a solar panel is pictured in Feldheim near Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Located about an hour and a half south of Berlin, the village of Feldheim has been energy self-sufficient for more than a decade. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
            
              The surface of a solar panel is pictured in Feldheim near Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Located about an hour and a half south of Berlin, the village of Feldheim has been energy self-sufficient for more than a decade. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
            
              The surface of a solar panel is pictured in Feldheim near Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Located about an hour and a half south of Berlin, the village of Feldheim has been energy self-sufficient for more than a decade. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
            
              The surface of a solar panel is pictured in Feldheim near Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Located about an hour and a half south of Berlin, the village of Feldheim has been energy self-sufficient for more than a decade. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
            
              The surface of a solar panel is pictured in Feldheim near Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Located about an hour and a half south of Berlin, the village of Feldheim has been energy self-sufficient for more than a decade. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
            
              The surface of a solar panel is pictured in Feldheim near Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Located about an hour and a half south of Berlin, the village of Feldheim has been energy self-sufficient for more than a decade. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
            
              The surface of a solar panel is pictured in Feldheim near Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Located about an hour and a half south of Berlin, the village of Feldheim has been energy self-sufficient for more than a decade. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
            
              The surface of a solar panel is pictured in Feldheim near Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Located about an hour and a half south of Berlin, the village of Feldheim has been energy self-sufficient for more than a decade. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
            
              The surface of a solar panel is pictured in Feldheim near Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Located about an hour and a half south of Berlin, the village of Feldheim has been energy self-sufficient for more than a decade. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
            
              The surface of a solar panel is pictured in Feldheim near Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Located about an hour and a half south of Berlin, the village of Feldheim has been energy self-sufficient for more than a decade. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
            
              The surface of a solar panel is pictured in Feldheim near Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Located about an hour and a half south of Berlin, the village of Feldheim has been energy self-sufficient for more than a decade. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
            
              The surface of a solar panel is pictured in Feldheim near Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Located about an hour and a half south of Berlin, the village of Feldheim has been energy self-sufficient for more than a decade. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
            
              The surface of a solar panel is pictured in Feldheim near Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Located about an hour and a half south of Berlin, the village of Feldheim has been energy self-sufficient for more than a decade. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
            
              Wind turbines turn near the village of Feldheim near Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Located about an hour and a half south of Berlin, the village of Feldheim has been energy self-sufficient for more than a decade. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
            
              The logo of the 'Feldheim Energie' (Feldheim Energy) company is framed by solar panels in Feldheim near Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Located about an hour and a half south of Berlin, the village of Feldheim has been energy self-sufficient for more than a decade. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
            
              The surface of a solar panel is pictured in Feldheim near Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Located about an hour and a half south of Berlin, the village of Feldheim has been energy self-sufficient for more than a decade. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
            
              The surface of a solar panel is pictured in Feldheim near Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Located about an hour and a half south of Berlin, the village of Feldheim has been energy self-sufficient for more than a decade. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
            
              Resident Siegfried Kappert speaks during an interview with the Associated Press in Feldheim near Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Located about an hour and a half south of Berlin, the village of Feldheim has been energy self-sufficient for more than a decade. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
            
              A wind turbine turns behind a solar panel in Feldheim near Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Located about an hour and a half south of Berlin, the village of Feldheim has been energy self-sufficient for more than a decade. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
            
              Wind turbines turn near the village of Feldheim, rear left, near Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Located about an hour and a half south of Berlin, the village of Feldheim has been energy self-sufficient for more than a decade. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
            
              Michael Knape, mayor of the town of Treuenbrietzen, speaks during an interview with the Associated Press about the village of Feldheim in Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Located about an hour and a half south of Berlin, the village of Feldheim has been energy self-sufficient for more than a decade. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
            
              Kathleen Thompson, who works for a local educational organization, speaks during an interview with the Associated Press in Feldheim near Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Located about an hour and a half south of Berlin, the village of Feldheim has been energy self-sufficient for more than a decade. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
            
              Wind turbines turn near the village of Feldheim near Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Located about an hour and a half south of Berlin, the village of Feldheim has been energy self-sufficient for more than a decade. Text reads: 'Energy Self-Sufficient District Feldheim. City of Treuenbrietzen'. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
            
              Wind turbines turn near the village of Feldheim, rear left, near Treuenbrietzen, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Located about an hour and a half south of Berlin, the village of Feldheim has been energy self-sufficient for more than a decade. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

AP

FILE - Containers are seen at a port in Nanjing in eastern China's Jiangsu province on Oct. 27, 202...
Associated Press

China November trade sinks under virus pressure, rate hikes

BEIJING (AP) — China’s imports and exports shrank in November as global demand weakened and anti-virus controls weighed on the second-largest economy. Exports sank 9% from a year earlier to $296.1 billion, worsening from October’s 0.9% decline, customs data showed Wednesday. Imports fell 10.9% to $226.2 billion, down from the previous month’s 0.7% retreat. The […]
21 hours ago
U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., speaks during a campaign rally at Georgia Tech Monday, Dec. 5, 20...
Associated Press

Why AP called the Georgia Senate runoff for Warnock

There weren’t enough uncounted votes in Republican-leaning areas for GOP challenger Herschel Walker to make up his runoff election night gap with incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock. That’s what led The Associated Press to call the race for Warnock late Tuesday. The vast majority of the uncounted votes rested in Democratic strongholds, meaning that Walker […]
21 hours ago
U.S. President Joe Biden, right, stands with Chinese President Xi Jinping before a meeting on the s...
Associated Press

US approves $425 million in arms sales to Taiwan

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration on Tuesday signed off on two new significant arms sales to Taiwan in approvals that are sure to rankle China. The State Department said it had okayed sales worth more than $425 million of spare aircraft parts to support Taiwan’s fleet of F-16 fighters, C-130 transport planes and other […]
21 hours ago
Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock speaks during an election day canvass launch on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 20...
Associated Press

Democratic Sen. Warnock wins Georgia runoff against Walker

ATLANTA (AP) — Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock defeated Republican challenger Herschel Walker in a Georgia runoff election Tuesday, ensuring Democrats an outright majority in the Senate for the rest of President Joe Biden’s term and helping cap an underwhelming midterm cycle for the GOP in the last major vote of the year. With Warnock’s second […]
21 hours ago
In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks during a memorial...
Associated Press

China’s Xi visiting Saudi Arabia amid bid to boost economy

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese leader Xi Jinping is attending a pair of regional summits in Saudi Arabia this week amid efforts to kick-start economic growth weighed down by strict anti-COVID-19 measures. The Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that Xi will attend the inaugural China-Arab States Summit and a meeting with leaders of the six nations that […]
21 hours ago
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., departs after speak during a Congressional Gold Med...
Associated Press

Congress set to rescind COVID-19 vaccine mandate for troops

WASHINGTON (AP) — The COVID-19 vaccine mandate for members of the U.S. military would be rescinded under the annual defense bill heading for a vote this week in Congress, ending a directive that helped ensure the vast majority of troops were vaccinated but also raised concerns that it harmed recruitment and retention. Republicans, emboldened by […]
21 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

(Photo via MLB's Arizona Fall League / Twitter)...
Arizona Fall League

Top prospects to watch at this year’s Arizona Fall League

One of the most exciting elements of the MLB offseason is the Arizona Fall League, which began its 30th season Monday.
...
SCHWARTZ LASER EYE CENTER

Key dates for Arizona sports fans to look forward to this fall

Fall brings new beginnings in different ways for Arizona’s professional sports teams like the Cardinals and Coyotes.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Here are 4 signs the HVAC unit needs to be replaced

Pool renovations and kitchen upgrades may seem enticing, but at the forefront of these investments arguably should be what residents use the most. In a state where summertime is sweltering, access to a functioning HVAC unit can be critical.
In one tiny German town, nobody worries about energy bills