At the final conference of the recharge.green project, in Sonthofen, Germany in May, researchers invited the international (Alpine-wide) community for a discussion on the theme of balancing nature and energy in the Alps.
The discussion quickly turned to an ongoing debate in the area – a proposed hydropower plant to be built near the nearby village of Bad Hinderlang.
Thomas Frey, the leader of a local nature protection agency in Bavaria, argued that the proposed power plant is sited in one of the last natural streams in the local mountains. Not only that, he explains, the area is protected from development by multiple laws at the national and European level.
Englebert Wille, leader of Älpele, the planning organization for the proposed plant, argued that energy needs in the region are growing, that the proposed plant is environmentally friendly and carefully planned.
The debate in the village has been going on so long that the locals are tiring of it. “We have heard this all a hundred times,” said one audience member at the public discussion. Yet neither side budges. The one side pushes ahead with plans to build, while the conservationists sue at every opportunity, aiming for a legal block to the project.
On a hypothetical level, people in the Alps are supportive of hydropower and other renewable energy projects. There is broad opposition to nuclear power. And with temperatures in the mountains warming more than twice the global average, people are also sensitive to the impacts of climate change and keen to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. But having been sold a sunny “green” view of renewable energy, people can be disappointed to find out that it, too, has impacts on the environment, and visible impacts on the landscape.
A project like recharge.green could have helped avoid conflict like this, by involving community member from the early planning stages, explained Chris Walzer, leader of the Recharge.Green project. Indeed the aim of the project is to not only provide a broad accounting of the potential benefits and trade-offs of renewable energy projects in the Alps, but also to involve stakeholders in planning and decision-making from early on in the process.