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Meiningen Deep Geothermal Energy, Germany


The Federal State Ministry of Economy of Thuringia intended to allow and support an explorative drilling for a Deep Geothermal (petrothermal/EGS) Electricity and Heat Utility. Plans were made public in January 2013 by the ministry and led to massive and swift protests. Internal planing however began much earlier, in 2007.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Meiningen Deep Geothermal Energy, Germany
State or province:Thuringia
Location of conflict:Meiningen
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Geothermal energy installations
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Since the project did not start, there is no quantitative data available.

Project area:0,5
Level of Investment:unknown
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:21,000
Start of the conflict:01/01/2013
End of the conflict:01/05/2014
Company names or state enterprises:Stadtwerke Meiningen from Germany
Relevant government actors:Federal Ministry of Economy of Thuringia
Public Utility of Meiningen (Stadtwerke Meiningen)
CDU Conservative party (opposed the project)
SPD Social Democrats (supported the project)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:local citizen initiative (Bürgerinitiative gegen tiefe Geothermie Meiningen)
probably support from anti-fracking groups
the Anti-Geothermal Initiative from Landau, Germany
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Other Environmental impactsLike all mining technologies, Geothermal exploration and use comes with the risk of induced seismic activity. However a 100% proof that an earthquake was caused by a drilling, a fracturing process or a running plant is impossible in areas with natural earthquakes. A coincidence, however unlikely, is always a possibility. Even more difficult is the proof that a particular damaged infrastructure or house was caused by a) a seismic event and b) the seismic event by geothermal works. For example an expertise in a court case from Landau, in which a house owner sued the geothermal power plant for compensation, called a connection between the plant and the damaged house “very unlikely” (Landgericht Landau, Sachverständigengutachten, 2 OH 10/12).
In total 29 deep geothermal power plants are in service in Germany according to the geothermal association (GtV 2014). Put in relation to the one larger seismic accident in Landau, the ratio of accidents to running plants is 1/29 or 3,45%.
A second argument of the citizen initiative in Meiningen is the threat of ground and drinking water pollution that could be caused by an accident in the drilling process or by leakage of polluted water at the surface. There are reports of drillings that emitted radioactive gas and/or water at the surface installation of the drilling. Heavy metals contained in the water from drillings are reported.
Drillings can connect to layers of ground water, inducing a mixing of two underground reservoirs. Possibly water can run off to a deeper level, leaving a cavity that leads to a lowering of the surface (e.g. in Schorndorf). Another threat is an elevation of the surface by accidents in the drilling process (e.g. in Rudersberg-Zumhof). The case of the city Staufen became infamous. The near surface geothermal drilling connected a water reservoir and an underground gypsum layer. The wet gypsum expanded and the surface elevated significantly.
(Many of the reported accidents have occurred with near-surface systems. Some could happen in a similar fashion with deep systems, others like the gypsum accident are rather unlikely to happen in deep GT systems)
Other Health impactsStress due to feared seismic activities and reduced trust in the community. There were reports of severe peer pressure against oppositional voices (those that supported the project). After a long period of time, a pollution of ground water tables might result in polluted tab water or negative effects for agriculture. There are reports of such water pollutions but no reports on any related health impact.
Other socio-economic impactsAccording to present mining law (under which all deep geothermal projects are treated) the plaintiff with e.g. a damaged house, resulting from seismic activity, has the burden of proof. It is often difficult to connect a crack in a house to a precise drilling, even when the temporal coincidence points to such a correlation. Local house owners are well aware of the earthquake risks from numerous media reports and the financial risk associated with it. The same burden of proof problem applies to health impacts. German mining law is very much on the side of the developer and offers very little juridical protection for affected people. Even if one plaintiff is successful and receives a compensation, every other house owner has to go to court again, individually.
German mining law, that has not been changed for decades and hardly applies a precaution principle. It is made in a spirit of technology and mining support, leaving the financial risk rather to the public and affected individuals than putting it to the project developers. The situation with damaged infrastructure and houses in the proximity of open coal mines is very similar. Some individuals achieve compensation but neighbours do not. So the financial risk is very real and people in affected areas are usually well aware of the detrimental juridical situation.
A third threat is also rather of social nature. Once the permission for mining, under which deep geothermal drillings are treated, is given by the central mining authority of a Land (Landesbergamt), it is difficult if not impossible for a town or village to stop the project, even if the local council and major fully opposes it.
Thus the only window of opportunity to stop a mining project is in the very beginning, before it starts and before permissions from the central authority are granted.
Since the drilling in Meiningen did not materialise, all impacts are hypothetical. The impact was purely social, not environmental-physical.
Project StatusStopped
Development of alternatives:Not developing petrothermal energy. Often German EJOS propose to rather invest in less risky renewable energies like wind or solar. Occasionally they also pledged for rather a coal burning power plant instead of deep geothermal power.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:The project was a success from the position of the EJO. If the EJO and the town parliament represented the popular opinion, the vote against the geothermal drilling was a success in terms of respect towards the local democratic will. Numerous similar initiatives against deep geothermal drillings in other parts of Germany, especially the south, relate to Meiningen as an inspiring success.
However another point of view is that each region should contribute to the energy transition (energiewende), counting geothermal energy as part of renewable energy technologies. That is often the main argument in favour of deep Geothermal energy, that it is for the common good, the energy transition. Such a position is supported by all environmental NGO. Only one report from the German NGO BUND raised critical concerns on geothermal power (Strom und Wärmeerzeugung aus Geothermie, BUND 2007).
Some anti-geothermal initiatives question in how far geothermal is renewable. Briefly, their argument is that the detriments like water pollution and earthquakes are not proportional to the amount of energy generated. (Often the equivalent of one or a few big wind turbines) The second argument is, that deep GT sites can buy very cheap electricity at industry tariffs (11 c per KwH) and "transform" it into renewable electricity to be sold for 25 c per KwH. The rationale is, that in contrast to PV or wind, a certain part of electricity has to be invested for the pumping process, before Geothermal generates electricity.
The debate on the status of GT is still ongoing. A majority of international and national environmental NGO is in favour of deep GT. A minority doubts the merits of GT.
Depending on the point of view one takes, Meiningen is a success for a local environmental justice struggle against a risk technology, or a failure for the general energy transition.
Sources & Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

New feed-in-law and energy law from 2014. Original long text (German only)
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Law (2014) on the continued fixed market price of 25,20 cent / kwh (electricity) from geothermal sources. (The feed-in-price of other renewable sources was reduced, in case of solar pv signifcantly, not so for geothermal energy. )
[click to view]

Evaluation of old feed-in-tariff on Geothermal energy as a basis for the 2014 law reform (German only).
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References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Purkus/Barth, 2011, Geothermal power production in future electricity markets—A scenario analysis for Germany, In: Energy Policy Volume 39, Issue 1, January 2011, Pages 349–357.
[click to view]

Collective Resistance and Sustainable Development in Rural Greece: The case of geothermal energy on the Island of Milos, paper of Maria Kousis, 1993 In: Sociologia Ruralis, p. 3-24.

Swiss seismological service
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EJO article in doubt of the renewable status of deep geothermal energy
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German Wikipedia on Geothermal (more detailed than English)
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Wikipedia on the Landau accident
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Agora think tank proposed a "radical" "re-design" of the energy act and the energy market, promising a swift transition and affordable prices, in October 2013, well before the law reform was shaped. The proposal seems not to have influenced legislation significantly. It did however provoked some critiques from the geothermal business sector, as it proposed to reduce financial support for geothermal energy strongly. The opposite happened, support for GT was left widely untouched. There is an English version of the report online. Agora think tank proposed a "radical" "re-design" of the energy act and the energy market, promissing a swift transition and afordable prices, in Ocotber 2013, well before the law reform was shaped. The proposal seems not to have influenced legislation significantly. It did however provoce some critiques from the geothermal business sector, as it proposed to reduce support for geothermal energy strongly.
[click to view]

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

local citizen initiative
[click to view]

Germany wide association of local anti-geothermal initiatives.
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Critical Blog on Geothermal Energy (German).
[click to view]

Information on Meiningen from the agency ITG (in favour of the project)
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Anti Fracking Initiative that supported the EJO
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Germany wide anti-geothermal association
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Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Map with Geothermal Potential in Germany.
[click to view]

Video with speech of the social democrat´s position in favour of the project.
[click to view]

News Paper Article
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News Paper Article
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Meta information
Contributor:Dr. Conrad Kunze, UFZ Leipzig, [email protected]
Last update11/02/2015
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