Robert Habeck is not your typical politician. It may be easier to picture him as a band member of Green Day than a member of a political party. This January, he entered the national stage after having been voted in as one of two co-chairs to lead the Greens in Germany. As a result, he needed to give up his post in the cabinet of Schleswig-Holstein, where he had served a second term as the state’s environment minister upon his confirmation in summer 2017. The party went as far as changing bylaws to fulfil his request for an orderly transition from the state to federal level, granting him eight months in which he was able to keep both jobs. H2-international spoke with Habeck about his experiences at both tiers of government.
H2-international: Mr. Habeck, 2018 was your third straight year of attending the Green Electricity show in Enge-Sande in your role as Schleswig-Holstein’s environment minister. What’s your motivation for visiting a regional event such as this one?
Habeck: It is not your average regional show. Rather, it is a showcase for sustainable transportation throughout northern Germany. At this event in Enge-Sande, you have many incredibly dedicated people who really want to see the transformation of the energy market take shape. And it is a good opportunity for me to meet them and talk to them.
You have spoken with plenty of citizens over the years. What is the mood in Schleswig-Holstein?
Habeck: As you know, life in the north is a bit on the quiet side. People in other states may have gotten used to heated debates, but the rhetoric up here is pretty tame. I think we need this kind of attitude if we want to stay focused on the issues, particularly if they are of grave concern to many.
What about the energy industry? What is on most people’s minds?
Habeck: First of all, the expansion of the power network is in full force. Half the middle section is finished and the transmission line on the west coast will be completed before the next election. One issue that is weighing heavily on people’s minds is wind power generation across the state. Our governing coalition has arrived at a sensible and workable compromise without losing sight of climate protection goals. I truly hope that the wind power market will pick up soon, as capacity is trailing expectations at the moment. The market is also a testing ground for a lot of important and innovative ideas, from the integration of renewables into existing systems to smart energy management and the construction of an electric highway. And we’re trying out new methods for energy storage and energy systems integration in general. I could go on, but the point is that we are adopting a wide variety of approaches to establish a future-proof energy network.
Almost no other region in the world is as blessed with wind resources as Schleswig-Holstein, not to mention the access it has to funds from the Renewable Energy Sources Act. The state, it seems, has allowed both wind farm developers and many citizens to profit from market growth over the past years. How did this come about?
Habeck: People around here quickly realized that they can benefit from the changes in the market by working together. The result is that a significant part of the value chain that was created through the transformation in the state remains in Germany, especially in the countryside. The success has brought about prosperity and joy, but there is great potential for conflict and that should not be ignored. If you want to transform a market, you need help from citizens, so they should have a say in what the future is going to look like. It is why we set up a citizen fund to support projects at a very early stage, when the banks don’t dole out cash for them. Up to EUR 200,000 are available for each project.
read more: H2-international October 2018