National Farmers Union Climate and Energy Coordinator Jan Ahlen, South Dakota Farmers Union President Doug Sombke, Bill Midcap from Rocky Mountain Farmers Union and Chris Studer of SDFU are in Germany and Austria this week to participate in the Renewables and Rural Energy Opportunities Study Tour organized by Ecologic Institute and the Atlantic Council of the United States. NFU President Roger Johnson says this is a great opportunity to learn some of the practices that have helped the renewable energy industry flourish.
The study tour will provide an opportunity for European and American professional foresters and farmers, policy makers, non-profit groups and biomass and biogas experts to share experiences about the economic and political factors informing land-use and renewable energy on both sides of the Atlantic. The study tour will take place in Bavaria, Germany and Upper Austria.
Germany has more than doubled its renewable energy capacity over the last decade, producing about 17% of the country's energy through renewables. As of late last year, the country committed to meeting 35% of its electricity needs from renewables by 2020 and 80% by 2050.
"They've seen remarkable progress and it has come as a result of some of the policies they've adopted," Johnson said. "There is some resistance in this country to renewable projects because most of them are owned by large entities located out of state, so they are absentee-owned and whatever profits are made go out of the state. What Germany has done is focus much more on community renewable energy projects so that the ownership stays local and everyone has an investment in it."
Johnson says that Austria has strengthened its biomass and biogas industries with new technology and supportive policies and that Bavaria has also made a strong commitment to renewable energy. By 2021, Bavaria anticipates producing 6-10% of its electricity from wind energy, 10% from biomass, and 16% from photovoltaics, which is the process of converting solar energy into electricity.
"We are very excited to learn more about what other countries are doing to produce more renewable energy," Johnson said. "And hope to be able to take some of these lessons and technologies back to the U.S."