Nestled in the hills of northern Bavaria, residents of Pegnitz once enthusiastically embraced Germany's green energy programme. Now they are pushing back, upset that high voltage cables and pylons are planned across their tiny town.
It is a crucial phase in Chancellor Angela Merkel's "Energiewende", or shift from nuclear power and fossil fuels towards renewable energy sources -- a policy that has put Germany on the map as a leader on green issues before a G7 meeting on June 7-8 and a climate summit at the end of the year.
But the resistance is developing into a major headache for Merkel. It is dividing her coalition, undermining her most ambitious domestic policy, creating uncertainty for some of Germany's biggest companies, and threatening the goal of producing nearly half of all power from renewable sources by 2025 while remaining Europe's economic powerhouse.
One of three main power lines carrying wind power from the breezy north to the industrial south would cut through Pegnitz. Many of its 14,000 residents worry that it will destroy the landscape, devalue property and bring unknown health risks.
"We are absolutely in favour of the Energiewende, but the power lines are the wrong way to implement it," Uwe Raab, the mayor of Pegnitz told Reuters. "The people in Pegnitz are frightened and upset."
The issue is likely to come to a head in the next few weeks as the government has set a deadline of the end of June or start of July to reach agreement on the routes.
"Studies suggest there could be a link between power lines and cancer," says Markus Bieswanger, leader of a protest group in the town. While there is no clear evidence of this, the uncertainty is enough to unsettle the public.
Other towns are also in revolt. Since the federal network agency presented its master plan to build the three high-voltage direct-current transmission lines from north to south, protest groups have formed across the country.
The conflict has escalated since the combative premier of Bavaria, Horst Seehofer, head of Merkel's sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), bowed to public concern and publicly revoked his support for the grid expansion.
So the governing coalition has delayed a decision on whether to go ahead with the three power lines several times, creating uncertainty for the economy and Merkel's grand project -- just as it has also delayed a plan to reduce emissions from coal plants under pressure from miners and industry.
Underground cabling and modernising existing pylons could be a solution at least in some areas, the net operators say.
But Raab, the mayor, remains sceptical. He fears that protests could turn violent as was the case in the Bavarian town of Wackersdorf in the 1980s. Back then, citizens prevented the construction of a nuclear reprocessing plant. During clashes with police, hundreds of people were hurt and some even killed.http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/06/03/germany-energy-protests-idUSL6N0WH0WH20150603