Electricity instead of milk – Bauer Wiese and the biogas boom


Welze (dpa) – Ulrich Wiese stands proudly between the walls of the meter-high concrete pools. In a few weeks almost nothing will be visible from the mighty tanks. “The gaps are still filled with soil,” says Wiese. The 42-year-old farmer has decided: Instead of milk, he will produce electricity in the future. One of around 300 biogas plants in Lower Saxony is being built on his land. “We also earn our money with potatoes, but we had to decide: renew the cowshed or start something new.”

Picture: Money 

The new Renewable Energy Sources Act – EEG for short – finally convinced the farmer from Welze near Hanover: the remaining 16 cows were abolished and the building application for the plant made. Since August 2004, the EEG has been securing a fixed purchase price for the generated electricity for operators of biogas plants for 20 years. “20 years of security, that’s something you appreciate in our industry,” explains Bauer Wiese. For the kilowatt-hour of electricity generated from manure and maize silage, the farmer gets at least 11.50 cents. With the electricity from Wieses Biogas can be supplied to two villages.

In principle, says Bauer Wiese, a biogas plant is a huge cow. Biomass such as manure and corn silage is “digested” by bacteria in large fermentation tanks. With the released methane, engines can be operated that generate electricity by means of generators. The technology of the plants has improved enormously in recent years, says the biogas expert of the Lower Saxony Ministry of Agriculture, Gerd Höher.

So biogas is also a job engine, the order books of plant manufacturers are full. There are waiting lists of one year or more, says Höher. With the support of the EEG, the Federal Government intends to increase the share of renewable energies to at least one fifth by 2020.

“We hope to make money in five to six years,” says Wiese. The loans for the plant are then far from being replaced: “A quarter of a million is in the system,” says Wiese. “It’s up to the whole farm and the family.” Without the bank, the project would be unthinkable.

Like Ulrich Wiese, many farmers are concerned, explains expert Höher. “This is an income alternative for farmers.” A “golden nose” will hardly earn a farmer, says Höher. But as a second pillar, it was always worth it. The number of plants in the country will double in the next few years, says Höher. “We are experiencing a real boom in biogas.”

So that nobody takes over, offer country and associations advice. But there is no money. Biogas plants would not be supported by the land, says Höher. Only the EEG give financial security. And the investments are huge: “A medium-sized plant costs quickly 1.5 million euros,” says Höher. Often several farmers would join forces to operate a larger facility. Meadow also gets help: A neighbor also provides maize silage, from the brother-in-law comes manure from pig breeding. Wiese cultivates corn on eleven hectares for the plant in sight of the village.

But by no means all are looking forward to the stream-builders. “There are definitely acceptance problems,” says expert Höher. Above all, neighbors worried about stink and filth. But Higher gives the all-clear: If any manure would be used, they would come in closed tanks and would be airtight in the fermentation tanks.

In Welze at the beginning there were also many objections to Ulrich Wiese’s installation: “They were afraid of smell and driving.” Finally, the raw material must be brought to the plant. “We were able to calm everyone down,” says the electricity farmer. He had visited together with residents a running plant: “There stinks nothing.”