Feldheim: energy autonomy
July and August are holiday months in Germany, but not for Kathleen Thompson. Her office in tiny Feldheim village in eastern Germany receives visitors from across the world all the year round. Feldheim does not have heritage buildings, restaurants or museums. What it has is a wind farm, a biogas plant and a woodchip-fired heating plant. These ensure that the village, with a population of 128 people living in 35 houses, generates all its energy locally from clean sources. It is the only village in the country with its own grid.
“Feldheim showcases Germany’s Energiewende, which the world is talking about,” says Thompson, sitting inside the information centre whose walls are covered with posters advertising Feldheim’s energy ventures. Tucked away in the Brandenburg countryside 60 km from Berlin, Feldheim attracted 3,000 visitors in 2012. “The number is growing every year,” says Thompson, who is in her thirties and works for a regional non-profit, New Energie Forum.
She explains how Feldheim became what it is today. Back in 2004-05 farmers in this village were a worried lot. Prices of their produce, milk, potato and sugar beet, were falling and the rate of electricity was increasing. While farmers were losing hope, a company called Energiequelle GmbH saw a big potential in the village. The Brandenburg-based company, which specialises in renewable power, was looking for a potential site for establishing a wind farm. Feldheim with an average wind speed of 6.5 m/sec fit the bill. Michael Raschermann, a 25-year-old owner of the company, sat with farmers’ cooperative and chalked out a plan to make Feldheim energy independent. A company was set up with equal partnership. It is called Feldheim Energie GmbH & Co. KG.
Soon a 500 KW biogas plant was set up by the joint venture in 2008. Farmers switched to maize, sweet corn and rye. They started sending 15-20 per cent of their produce to the plant, the rest is used as animal feed or sold in the market. The agriculture feed is mixed with manure from animal farms to produce biogas. In a year the plant produces 4.2 million kWh of electricity and 4.3 million kWh equivalent of heat. Almost 80 per cent of the generated heat is used in the village, mostly in a pig farm. Its by-product slurry is used as fertiliser in farms.
Meanwhile, Energiequelle also set up a wind farm with 43 turbines having a total capacity of 74 MW. One of the turbines of 500 KW capacity is owned by the village. Energiequelle pays farmers rent for putting its turbines on their farms.
The power generated from the biogas plant and the wind turbines is fed into the local grid to meet the electricity requirements of the village. The surplus is sold to the grid. Feldheim Energie gets a feed-in-tariff of 19 euro cents per Kwh for electricity generated from the biogas plant and nine cents for the electricity from the wind farm. It sells the electricity to the residents of Feldheim at about 17 cents per kWh.
But building mini-grid for the village was not easy. Michael Knappe, the outgoing mayor of Treuenbrietzen municipality, which covers Feldheim, had to face up to big energy industries. “Energy system in Germany is centralised and strictly regulated. It is also monopolised by a few energy distribution companies. And they don’t like it if somebody steps on their toes,” Knappe, a staunch supporter of renewable energy, told the media. When the residents approached the major public electricity utility E.ON, it refused to sell or lease its grid to Feldheim.
“They didn’t want others to take control,” says a member of Energiequelle. The village, therefore, decided to build its own energy grid with the help of Energiequelle. It was completed in 2010. Each resident contributed around €3,000 and some state subsidies were pooled together to meet the total cost of €2.2 million. The village also received a little help (€850,000) from a European Union programme to build a heating network in the village.
Having their own grid exempts residents of the village from various electricity surcharges. As a result they pay onethird lower tariff than what other households in Germany pay. This tariff is guaranteed for 10 years.
In extreme winter when there is no wind, Feldheim’s wood chip plant switches on and provides heating. The biogas plant, though sluggish in cold, provides electricity. Every family in the village has found a job in these clean energy ventures. They are also earning more than before.
With the number of visitors in Feldheim increasing, Thompson’s makeshift office will be replaced by a big centre which will showcase Feldheim to visitors and also conduct training for people who want to work in the renewable energy sector. It will also have a restaurant, the first in Feldheim.