The nuclear power phase-out, the energy transition and the fight against climate change have resulted in the emergence of new business models in Germany. This is the success story of Klaus Meier.
Brokdorf and Gorleben. The two sites are synonymous with nuclear energy dissent. In the seventies and eighties they were the scene of large demonstrations against the construction of a nuclear power plant and of storage space below ground for spent nuclear fuel. Actually demonstrations are an understatement for what went down. It was more like full-on war being waged, with the police resorting to water canons and teargas, taking hundreds of people into custody. The opposition was not demure either. Klaus Meier distinctly remembers it. He was always part of what went on there. “I participated in all the demonstrations across vast stretches every weekend,” recalls this manager, lank in stature, born in 1964.
The battles that were waged for Brokdorf and Gorleben represented the nucleus of the anti-nuclear power movement in Germany at the time. Moreover they have now come to represent the nucleus of energy transition and the renunciation of nuclear energy. They are the soil from which Germany’s Green movement germinated. Klaus Meier is the embodiment of economic development which would not have been conceivable without resistance against nuclear power and the energy transition.
Today he is the Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the wpd AG Corporation, a leading Europe-wide developer and operator of wind farms. Meier founded the enterprise in 1996 together with Gernot Blanke. At first its workforce was a single-digit figure. Today the corporation employs 1200 people, 500 of whom are based at its headquarters in Bremen, the city where Meier grew up. His enterprise is the perfect example for the renewable energy sector in Germany, which employs more than 300,000 people today.
In the interim the wpd group has installed wind turbines totalling a capacity of 3000 megawatts. This is the equivalent of the capacity of three nuclear power plants; a comparison which Meier is always keen to cite. Wind power is forcing out nuclear power. Nobody dared dream of it 20 years ago. Now wpd AG is playing its part in ensuring that the dream becomes reality.
It was in the autumn of this year that Meier could explain to a large audience for the first time that from the humble beginnings of his fight way back when, had emerged some major commercial projects. On 8th September wpd, together with a series of other investors, officially put into operation the offshore “Butendiek” wind farm, some 30 kilometres west of the North Sea island of Sylt. Some 80 installations with a total output of 288 megawatt gyrate in the wind there. Overall investment total: 1.3 billion Euros. With offshore wind farms like “Butendiek” renewable energy in Germany is reaching new heights. Dignitaries from around the country are attending its launch, among them ministers and bankers. “Renewable energy sources” are big business. Klaus Meier is at the centre of where it’s at.
The beginnings were considerably more low-key. “I was still a trainee lawyer, not even a qualified lawyer when I began to give farmers who wanted to erect wind turbines on their properties advice,” recalls Meier. Such farmers were Green movement enthusiasts at the time. Meier was able to find the right pitch in his conversations with the farmers. He too comes from a farm on the outskirts of Bremen and has an understanding of how farmers think. Be it the milk price or slurry manure, it is easy for him to find common ground in conversation with them. It is only years later that this would evolve into a lucrative business area. Initially everything was pure idealism. “I didn’t have a modus operandi,” he admits today.
Today he has made his peace with the opponents of yesteryear, the operators of nuclear power plants. The boundaries of the past have become blurred. Some of the nuclear power plant operators have gone to great lengths to bring forward renewable energy sources, Meier adds. Twenty years ago that was another story entirely. “The boundaries were still clear-cut then. On the one side stood the old key players, the coal and nuclear power plant operators, who defended their positions tooth and nail. On the other there stood the community perpetrators like us.”
Meier’s enthusiasm remains unbroken nonetheless. Germany’s energy transition gives him great satisfaction. It remains the most important market for wpd as it has always been. “We have the incredible opportunity to be in a position to show everyone here that it works. We can supply an industrialised country like Germany with predominantly renewable energies,” he says. Meier not only accords renewable energies a decisive role in electricity production, but also the heating and traffic sectors of the future.
The growing self-confidence of the pioneers of yesteryear is reflected in the new head office of the wpd group. The Vienna-based architectural office Delugan Meissl has tailored wpd its own building representing its cause. Here at the Stephanitorsbollwerk building, right on the River Weser in Bremen, is where new projects are planned and existing projects are managed: On the first floor you will find the control room. It is from here that wind turbines in ten countries worldwide are monitored. It is where all the performance data interfaces.
Meier is proud of what he has created here with his associate of many years, Gernot Blanke. Moreover he is proud that it has succeeded in the country of his birth – where together with many others more than 30 years ago – he was still having to fight for his goals. “It is a great country,” Meier says. It is a sentence that would never have crossed his lips in the past.
By Klaus Stratmann, Berlin