Wind energy industry in the north: cuxport booms, bremerhaven complains

While Cuxhaven’s offshore loading port is flourishing, the Bremen Senate has yet to prove the need for the "offshore terminal" in Bremerhaven.

The dike at the Luneplate nature reserve: This is where the Bremerhaven offshore terminal is to go Photo: dpa

Bremen’s Senator for Economic Affairs can only dream of this: "Workshop manager wanted," maintenance planner for electrical engineering wanted, coordinator for quality wanted. And so on.

The company Siemens Gamesa is looking for dozens of skilled workers for its wind energy company – in Cuxhaven. Bremerhaven was supposed to be the center for wind energy on the North Sea coast. The Bremen Senate invested millions to create an infrastructure of state-funded expertise there and founded the lobby company "Wind Energy Agency" (WAB), whose "B" today is only a nostalgic reminder of the original name affix "Bremerhaven.

Now the Siemens plant in Cuxhaven is booming; in three shifts, some 1,000 employees produce nacelles with 7 megawatts of power, and work is already underway on those with 10 megawatts. Next to Siemens is the old plant of the Ambau company, which builds tubular steel towers there. The company Muehlhan AG is planning a blasting and coating hall, and the Danish company Nordmark has invested 19 million euros in a hall for machining wind turbines.

A total of 2,500 people now work at "Cuxport," says Cuxhaven’s mayor Ulrich Getsch, who is pleased to report that there could be significantly more if the German government increases its expansion targets again. In Cuxhaven, Getsch praises his wind energy port, everything can be shipped "that they can’t transport by road".

2010: The wind energy world is still in order. Bremen’s Senate decides that a new transhipment facility for the offshore industry will go into operation on the Weser River in 2014. Bremen’s Senator for Economic Affairs, Martin Gunthner (SPD), promises "many thousands of new jobs in the region" in a glossy brochure. Four companies are already there – Areva Wind, REpower Systems, PowerBlades, WeserWind. And the Offshore Terminal Bremerhaven (OTB) is expected to attract others.

2012: The private wind energy companies don’t want to build the OTB. Ronny Maier, now a state environmental councillor, explains why the state should take the risk: "We expect tens of thousands more turbines to be placed in the North Sea. That moves to 25,000 gigawatts by 2030. The market is there."

2015: The Bremerhaven company WeserWind, which manufactures steel foundations, files for insolvency.

2017: Bremerhaven-based Areva Wind GmbH, which manufactures 5-megawatt turbines, is swallowed by market leader Siemens and wound up.

2017: The Senvion group announces at the beginning of the year that the Bremerhaven PowerBlades plant will be closed at the end of 2017.

2018: Decision of the Higher Administrative Court of Bremen in summary proceedings: "It must be seriously considered that the demand has been significantly overestimated."

2018: Construction Senator Joachim Lohse (Greens) formulated the principle of hope for the OTB with the remark that with wind energy "things will also pick up again."

While Cuxhaven is booming, the industry in Bremerhaven is shrinking. Ten years ago, the Bremen Senate also wanted to focus on wind energy, relying on interested companies to build their offshore terminals themselves. Perhaps this was a bad idea in view of the fact that a heavy-load terminal built with state funds was available in Cuxhaven – largely unused at the time.

In any case, the companies did not find the investment sufficiently interesting, and the Bremen Senate finally decided to provide state funding for the planned terminal. The Green Senator for the Environment was persuaded by the demand forecast, and in 2016 there was then the planning approval decision. The conservationists from BUND filed a complaint against it – three years later, this Thursday, the issue is now coming before the Bremen Administrative Court in the first main proceedings.

The Bremen Senate has to justify the considerable encroachment on nature with "needs analyses," although the expansion of offshore wind energy has been losing steam for years. Some of the Bremerhaven companies that wanted to profit from the short distance to the loading quay have already given up. And the global market leader Siemens has decided against Bremerhaven and in favor of Cuxhaven.

The 5th chamber of the Bremen administrative court had already announced a construction stop at the end of 2017 in summary proceedings requested by the conservationists: The heavy-load port would presumably have to be planned by the federal authorities. They were responsible because the port project was located on the edge of a federal waterway, the judges explained.

The Bremen Senate went to the second instance, and the Higher Administrative Court (OVG) confirmed the construction stop in mid-2018, but with a different justification: The need for the OTB had not been demonstrated so convincingly that the considerable interference with nature could be justified with it. After all, the Bremen Senate is planning the OTB in a nature reserve protected under European law.

In the main proceedings, the administrative court therefore wants to hear primarily experts who justify the need. BUND doubts the need – "we assess ourselves", Martin Rode explained. The arguments for the OTB are "getting worse from year to year" because the activities of the wind energy industry in Bremerhaven have continuously decreased.

The red-green senate is sticking to the project. After the OVG ruling, Economics Senator Martin Gunthner (SPD) and Building Senator Joachim Lohse (Greens) declared that the OTB would remain "the state’s central infrastructure project" and would connect around 250 hectares of industrial land to the water.

This is in line with Bremerhaven’s interests, regardless of the wind energy issue. As a project of general port expansion, however, the construction of the quay in the nature reserve would be even less justifiable than with the wind energy argument, say the critics of the OTB, such as Bremen’s Green Party leader Maike Schaefer.

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