The name Hans Gröbmayr is inextricably linked to the energy transition and climate protection in the district: in 2011, the district council designated Glonner as the district’s first climate protection manager. Three years later, Gröbmayr became the managing director of the new energy agency, of which he played a key role. At the end of his service on Friday, he gave the SZ an interview.
SZ: Why do you actually become a climate protection manager?
Hans Gröbmayr: The environment has always been very important to me. I grew up on a farm and learned carpentry, which is perhaps why issues such as sustainability and protecting our environment have always been relevant to me. Later, as a municipal council, energy and environmental issues became increasingly important to me, such as sustainable building or regenerative local heating networks. And I was lucky enough to have a job – I was a teacher at the technical college for construction technology for 34 years – where they also dealt with the topics of ecological and energy-efficient construction, and especially wood. Since then I have dealt more and more intensively with sustainability and environmental protection and it has become so important to me that I thought: Maybe there will still be a life after being a teacher. When the district then looked for a climate protection manager in 2011, I applied.
What is your balance sheet after almost nine years? At the beginning, would you have thought that the energy transition could do better, or would you do more than you thought?
I applied because the district’s goal fascinated me so much: to be free of fossil fuels by 2030. At that time I also thought that those who decided to do so are also aware of what it means to strive for this goal with all our might. I would have wished we were further today. The technical solutions have long been there and affordable. What prevents a lot is still outdated structures, the influence of the fossil lobby associations and, for many years, a lack of political will at a higher level to set the right course for effective climate protection.
And were everyone aware of what it means – in all its consequences?
I think that you wanted to achieve the goal that you decided. But even today, many people still hope that climate change will not be so bad and that the necessary changes will not be that big. In 2006, it was perhaps not yet clear how big the task was to take the population along, to really involve it in the process. I maintain that many people are still not aware of the changes that will come. Negative changes in our overall quality of life if we do not get species and climate protection under control. Or the switch to a sustainable lifestyle and the complete “decarbonization” of the energy industry if we want to keep the chance for a good and meaningful life on the planet. We have a choice. With few exceptions, politicians around the world have recognized the task ahead and set the right goals. It is now important to implement this. The Paris climate protection resolutions were in 2015 – we have no more time to lose. The period in which we can still prevent the irreversible consequences of global warming has shrunk to two legislative periods.
A lot has happened in the district, above all the energy agency was founded. Can you say you are on the right track?
In the district, the district administrator and many of his colleagues recognized that climate protection is necessary and the 2030 goal must be achieved. With energy cooperatives, energy agencies and boar mills, we were able to build effective structures that meet all the requirements for doing what is necessary both in the area of consulting and in project implementation. We are on the right track, but we still have to be much, much faster when it comes to implementing the savings and efficiency projects, expanding renewable energy generation, and also learning sustainable lifestyles.
The big issue in the district is wind power. At some point there will be a citizens’ decision, which carries a certain risk. How big do you rate the chances that there will be any significant use of wind power in the district in the next ten years?
Many know that I was not a friend of this referendum, but wanted politicians to take responsibility, which also results from the decisions we have just discussed. The citizens’ decision also has advantages: Before the decision is made, the citizens can be given extensive information about climate protection and wind energy – they then have a direct influence on a specific political decision. If citizens choose to say “yes” to wind power, the issue of resistance can also be off the table. This is a really big opportunity. That is why we must invest all our efforts to bring the citizens’ decision to a – in my view, of course – a positive outcome. We have good arguments for using wind power – also in our region. These will prevail.
How do you get against half-truths and perceived truths, false and fictitious statistics?
Through verifiable arguments and experiencing wind power using built examples. Honestly name the actual effects of wind turbines, which is what false statements come up with. Provide completely open information, also show the good sides of wind energy. Share experiences, everyone in the area can look at and listen to wind turbines. There is nothing to hide, it doesn’t work anyway. The parts are too big for that.
But the argument is common among opponents of wind power: No matter what we do here, it doesn’t work anyway. We need global solutions.
Of course, we need the Paris decisions to be implemented worldwide. It is of little use if we only do something in the Ebersberg district or only in Bavaria or Germany. But: If we, where many live in great prosperity and with a high degree of industrialization have had and still have a significant share of CO₂ emissions, are not ready to deliver our share of reduced CO₂ emissions, then we can do it from “the others “don’t expect at all. But there is also a second aspect: if we do not use the future technologies necessary to solve the problems, most of which were developed by us, others will do it. The result would be loss of jobs and economic wellbeing. Nobody can want that, nor can anyone want to answer for it.
In terms of expansion, they had formulated the goal that more than 30 wind turbines should be built in the district in order to meet electricity requirements. So far there is one, the others are hanging in the balance. How long will it take to reach the goal?
The 10-hour control has made many things much more difficult. It is often interpreted as if there were any disadvantages to be expected with a wind turbine distance of less than two kilometers. That is simply wrong. The set political goals cannot be achieved without the use of wind power. We have the potential for the named number of wind turbines in the district. These can be operated economically and integrated well into the landscape. It is up to the politically responsible to do what is necessary. A positive referendum could trigger an initial spark. Our approach in the Höhenkirchner Forest could serve as a model for implementation. Citizens’ facilities are planned there, in which citizens are involved in every respect: They are informed and their suggestions are heard, and monetary participation is also offered to the communities and the citizens themselves.
The goal will be reached in little more than ten years. However, I ask you not to lose sight of our other tasks, for example a more sustainable lifestyle according to the motto “less but better”.
It is often the case with polarizing issues: 20 percent absolutely oppose, 20 percent absolutely, the rest somehow doesn’t care. How do you get the 60 percent of people to vote?
I think the idea of the district administrator – even if you lose time again – that you combine voting with the next federal election is wise. This reduces effort and public costs, and many choose that day. You really get a picture of how the population thinks. It takes smart ideas to get as many people as possible with their information. We have this.
What happens when the result of the citizens’ decision is: no wind turbines?
I’m not dealing with that, it won’t come. The majority of citizens are well aware that we can no longer say “the others should do it”, or postpone the necessary action until later. The referendum will clearly show this. They know that the Ebersberger Forst will not survive a warming of more than two degrees and that it is high time to act.
Wouldn’t it make more sense to plan for the consequences of climate change right away?
It is clear that climate protection has various aspects. The decarbonization of energy generation is only one aspect. Bogs and forests need to be renatured in order to preserve them or even enlarge them as CO₂ stores. Our consumer behavior must change, a real circular economy must be our goal. The energy agency has declared 2020 to be the year of the heat transition, which unfortunately has moved somewhat into the background due to Corona. Nevertheless, our efforts in this area are particularly high, because one rightly speaks of “sleeping giant warmth”. Lowering our heating requirements by renovating and converting the heating systems is a very big lever for the energy transition. Politicians have made significant improvements here with the climate pact. We hope that the high subsidies will have a major impact on the heating transition. Our consultations in demand clearly show a positive trend.
But to your question: climate overheating is real. It can only be limited and no longer prevented. We hesitated too long instead of acting decisively. Heavy rain events will become more frequent and also periods of drought, more hot days will have an enormous impact on our health. There are already initial considerations on the subject of climate impacts, but for my successor, this must unfortunately become a focus of her work. However, the first priority must remain: Climate protection is the best protection against the consequences of global warming.
What will you do if you are no longer responsible for the energy transition in the district?
I will give my family and myself more time. But I will continue to offer my help to implement the energy goals. I stay true to the environment anyway, that’s not what I did to make a lot of money, it has become my life’s theme. But now I’m going to hay work in South Tyrol first and will calmly think about how I can make sense of my retirement.