June 27, 2008

Fairy-Tale Town Up in Arms Over Decree on Solar Panels

By Tony Paterson

The university town of Marburg is where the Brothers Grimm collected many of their fairy tales, and the cobbled streets and medieval buildings look like they could have come straight out of one of their illustrated children's books.

Now, following the approval of a new law, the quaint red-tiled roofs may soon have to be adorned with solar panels and the usually genteel residents are up in arms.

From October this year it will be mandatory for solar panels to be installed on new buildings, as well as those being expanded, altered or renovated. Any property owner who fails to comply will face a fine of at least 1,000 (790).

The city's governing coalition of Greens and Social Democrats hailed the measure as a landmark, which put Marburg at the cutting edge of Germany's campaign to cut carbon emissions by up to 40 per cent by 2020. The German branch of Greenpeace praised the city of 80,000 as a "pioneer for renewable energy". But not everyone is impressed.

Herman Uchtmann, a conservative Christian Democrat town councillor, has accused the city's coalition of trying to run an "environmental dictatorship".

"The town council should not have the right to force people to install solar panels on properties. The whole thing should be voluntary," Mr Uchtmann said. "There are some young families who can't afford the installation and there are older people who may not live to reap the financial benefits."

For the average household, installation costs have been estimated at around 5,000. Ardent backers, such as the city's Green Party mayor Franz Kahle, insist that although the up-front figure is expensive, it would be offset by energy savings within 15 years.

But since the ruling was passed last week, it has emerged that Mr Kahle is not a home owner but a tenant who would enjoy the benefits of the law without having to pay for them.

Mr Uchtmann is spearheading a campaign to have the ruling outlawed by the courts before it comes in to force. "I think people should be able to decide whether they want solar panels on an individual basis and not by decree," he said. His position has been backed by energy suppliers and the Marburg home owners' association. Heinz Ludwig, its spokesman, said home owners were being penalised by the new law. "The high costs that we will be obliged to pay for solar power will deter many of us," he said.

The criticism is a setback for Germany's attempts to portray itself as the world's greenest nation. Similar criticism was levelled at wind energy providers after the government began subsidising the installation of wind farms in eastern Germany in the 1990s.

Germany's Solar Industry Association, which oversaw the opening of the world's largest solar energy plant in east Germany this month, admits the initial cost of solar panels for home heating is a major barrier for consumers.

Originally published by By Tony Paterson in Berlin.

(c) 2008 Independent, The; London (UK). Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.