Just no wind turbines in the forest – this attitude is passé for federal states after a decision by the Federal Constitutional Court. With a decision published on Thursday, the judges in Karlsruhe ruled that a complete ban on wind turbines in forest areas in Thuringia was unconstitutional (1 BvR 2661/21). The decision of the Karlsruhe judges has a signal effect for other federal states with such a blanket ban and, according to experts, could provide more speed in the recently rather sluggish wind power expansion in Germany. The German Wind Energy Association spoke of a bang from Karlsruhe.

The plaintiffs

Private forest owners had lodged a constitutional complaint against the general ban in the Thuringian Forest Act, which was amended at the end of 2020 – with success. They want to build wind turbines on bare land with project developers.

The situation in the federal states

According to an investigation by the scientific service of the Bundestag as of August 2022, there is also a wind power taboo in forest areas in some other federal states, but there are also special and exceptional regulations. The study states: “The use of forest sites for wind energy is currently permitted in six federal states: Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Brandenburg, Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland.” In two other federal states – North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony – it is possible to a limited extent. The Ministry of Climate Protection in Mainz considers Rhineland-Palatinate to be the federal state with the most wind turbines in the forest at the moment – there are 475.

The decision of the Federal Constitutional Court

They declared the ban in the Thuringian Forest Act “incompatible with the Basic Law and therefore void”. It prohibits without exception the change in the type of use of forest areas and “prevents any construction of wind turbines in forest areas,” says the decision. This is an encroachment on the property rights of forest owners, which are protected by the Basic Law. The Free State of Thuringia lacks the legislative competence for the regulation, since the federal government has also made legal regulations in this area. The right to land is called.

Nature protection continues to apply to forests

As a rule, wind turbines are located in locations that are severely damaged or already treeless after bark beetle infestation, drought and storms – so-called calamity areas. And with their legislative competence for nature conservation and landscape management, the federal states could continue to place forests under protection “if these areas are worthy of protection and need protection because of their ecological function, their location or their beauty,” the constitutional judges explained.

The President of the Wind Energy Association, Hermann Albers, therefore advocates releasing areas in commercial forests for wind energy use. These are often monocultures that could get more biodiversity through contractually agreed reforestation. Yields from wind energy could be used for this.

Habeck’s appeal

Federal Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) recently asked the federal states to make more space available for new wind turbines. “There are currently too few viable projects.” According to the federal government, 0.8 percent of the state area has been designated for onshore wind energy so far – but only 0.5 percent is actually available. According to the federal government’s new “wind on land law”, two percent of the federal area is to be designated for wind energy by the end of 2032. There are guidelines for the 16 federal states as to how high their share must be to achieve the goal.

States want to react

Thuringia’s Energy Minister Anja Siegesmund now wants to quickly abolish the blanket ban on wind turbines in the forest. “The judgment finally solves a blockade in Thuringia that has unnecessarily held us up for too long with the energy transition,” said the Greens politician in Erfurt. The regulation was written into law primarily at the insistence of the opposition CDU parliamentary group in the state parliament – as a kind of compromise, because the red-red-green minority coalition of Prime Minister Bodo Ramelow (left) was dependent on CDU votes for the budget. North Rhine-Westphalia is also planning changes: the new state government wants to change the state development plan, according to the responsible ministry. “An essential building block will be the expansion of wind energy on suitable forest areas.”