Russian gas? Nein danke, says German district

STORY: Germany is scrambling to avert a fuel crisis this winter.

But one rural district has become a role model for how the country might wean itself off dwindling imports of Russian gas... by producing all the energy that it consumes itself.

Rhein-Hunsrueck uses a combination of solar, wind and biofuel to generate enough power to run its homes, public buildings and businesses.

It even leaves enough to contribute to an electric car-sharing service and e-bikes.

The area's energy transition has been a relatively rapid one, according to district climate protection manager, Frank-Michael Uhle.

“Up until 1995, not a single kilowatt hour of energy used in our district was produced by us. Everything had to be imported. Then some courageous visionaries said wars are being fought about oil and gas and we need to do something about it. So they collected money for the first wind turbine which produced electricity for 200 households. Today, we have 279 wind turbines which generate electricity for 300,000 households."

Rhein-Hunsrueck also has biofuel plants, and its towns and villages are dotted with solar panels - just over three years after it turned climate-neutral.

It's well ahead of the curve, even in a country with a well developed renewables sector.

At a national level, Germany is targeting carbon neutrality by 2045 and for renewables to contribute 80% of power generation by 2030.

But Berlin is currently being forced to contemplate the unsettling prospect of gas rationing during the winter.

Thomas Lorenz, manager of the western district's waste management facility, says biofuel from woodland waste generates the equivalent of one million liters of heating oil per year - and they could make even more.

“We are currently using about half of the waste. If we wanted to process all of it we could easily operate three other heating plants. So in theory, we could operate six plants."

The district's energy transition has also brought economic benefits.

Its unemployment rate has fallen to 3.5% - below the national average of 5.3%.

And data from the Rhineland-Palatinate region's Energy Agency shows local municipalities are debt-free and have financial reserves of $101 million USD.

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