The Clearingstelle EEG|KWKG is a unique connstruct in the German legal landscape. The facility clarifies technical and legal issues, settles disputes, and has thus become a valuable contact point for experts and plant operators in the changing energy system. Now it is celebrating its 15th anniversary.

The facility offers clarification on complicated matters in the energy sector regarding the Renewable Energy Sources Act (Erneuerbare-Energien-Gesetz, EEG), the Combined Heat and Power Act (Kraft-Wärme-Kopplungsgesetz, KWKG) and the Metering Point Operation Act (Messstellenbetriebsgesetz, MsbG) to save those affected from having to go to court. It was launched in 2007 and arbitrates between the actors in the energy industry, that is, the plant and network operators, direct marketers, and metering point operators.

A complex renewable energy law requires technical expertise

How did such an institution come about in 2007? The main driver was the strong increase of renewable energy plants and the expanding scope of the EEG. "In the beginning, the legal frame of the EEG was lean and quite straightforward," explains Managing Director Dr Martin Winkler. But over time everything has become more complex – various constellations involving an increasing number of plants, detailed technical questions, complicated grid connection, the problem of electricity measurement – and the legal text could not "sum up in a nutshell" every detail of individual cases. The scope of the EEG is an expression of this complexity: Whereas the first EEG of 2000 comprised only 10 sections, the most recent amendment to the EEG contains more than 200 sections. The main provisions concern market premiums and remuneration.

Between 2007 and 2021, the Clearingstelle EEG|KWKG received a total of 14,157 inquiries, 1089 in the last year alone. Most inquiries in 2021 related to photovoltaic plants (74%), followed by other matters (10%), biomass (8%), CHP and wind (3% each) and water (2%).

The experts at the EEG|KWKG Clearing House combine legal, technical and commercial know-how to resolve disputes or legal issues. © Businessfotografie Inga Haar, Berlin

90 percent of inquiries can be solved within 10 days

The Clearingstelle EEG|KWKG offers access for everyone: "Representation by an attorney is not necessary," emphasizes Managing Director Sönke Dibbern. For those involved in a conflict and interested in the services of the Clearingstelle EEG|KWKG, the latter provides for an inquiry form on its website. It is clarified internally whether the problem has already been dealt with – then reference is made to the previous work result – or whether it is necessary to initiate a new clarification procedure. In 90 percent of the inquiries, the institution can issue a reference clarifying the matter within 10 days. For approximately 10 percent of the inquiries, a new clarification process must be initiated, which may take up to a year.

The service costs are comparatively low. An inquiry can be made for free. If a procedure is necessary to clarify the facts of the case, the costs are calculated based on the performance of the plant, regardless of the duration of proceedings.

Within 15 years, the experts at the Clearingstelle EEG | KWKG have clarified, settled, and specified many technical and legal issues. Due to the steadily growing number of inquiries and tasks, the team at the Clearingstelle EEG | KWKG has meanwhile grown to 32 employees.

Over 90 per cent of disputes brought to the Clearingstelle EEG | KWKG can be resolved within 10 days.

In great demand: the Clearing House has become a reliable institution

Over 4,000 entries are listed in the Internet database on the homepage. This database, which can be viewed by anyone free of charge, is the largest freely accessible collection of legal cases on renewable energies and combined heat and power in Germany, explains Managing Director Dibbern.

The Clearingstelle in numbers:

  • Between 2007 and 2021, the Clearingstelle EEG | KWKG received a total of 14,157 inquiries, 1089 in the last year alone. Most inquiries in 2021 related to photovoltaic plants (74%), followed by other matters (10%), biomass (8%), CHP and wind (3% each) and water (2%).

  • The institution also conveyed its knowledge and clarification authority in 41 technical discussions, which were attended by 5136 participants.

  • The Clearingstelle was founded on October 15, 2007. The team initially consisted of seven employees, including the current Managing Directors Sönke Dibbern and Dr. Martin Winkler. Today, 32 employees are working for the institution.

Sönke Dibbern (left) and Dr Martin Winkler have been the commercial and scientific director, respectively, at Clearingstelle EEG | KWKG since October 2019. © Businessfotografie Inga Haar, Berlin

Interview with Dr. Martin Winkler and Sönke Dibbern, CEOs of the Clearingstelle EEG | KWKG

Why was the Clearingstelle EEG | KWKG set on track and and how was the launch? Was there any criticism of this new construct?

Dr Martin Winkler: There were a few players who eyed us critically. I am thinking of law firms that were a little scared that we would take away their business. Which of course we did not. At the time, there was a general need to set the Clearingstelle on track because the Ministry of the Environment was aware that the clarification of questions relating to the interpretation of the Renewable Energy Sources Act solely through the ordinary judiciary would simply take too long and would represent an obstacle to investment. If projects had failed only because industrial actors did not know what was allowed and what was not, this would have become a problem for the energy transition. Hence, an option outside of the courts was created - with legal and technical expertise.

How did the energy industry react, both the established and the renewables sector?

Sönke Dibbern: There was critical eyeing from several sides. On the one hand, it was rumoured that we were now the extended arm of the Ministry of the Environment. Others believed that we would only represent the established energy industry and its interests. It took some time to show the industry that this is not the case. We simply took both sides equally seriously.

Dr Winkler: Exactly, it was crucial for the success of the Clearingstelle that we understood ourselves as a neutral and independent actor. We provide actors with a forum, a protected space, where they can exchange ideas and find solutions.

If a plant operator is faced with a complicated problem, for example when putting a plant into operation, what is the best way to proceed?

Dr Winkler: In the best scenario, the problem does not even reach us. We always advise calling or messaging the other side first. Unfortunately, we keep seeing cases where I believe that the problem could have been resolved with a quick phone call. Then, of course, there are problems that cannot be solved so easily. Then we are on the spot. The affected person can use the inquiry form to present the problem – preferably in the form of a detailed description of the facts. We then look at the case and provide information so that the problem can be solved.

Dibbern: In most cases, this form of solving a problem is quick and straightforward and, moreover, even free of charge.

Dr Winkler: If ambiguities persist, we offer a formal procedure – of course only if the plant and grid operators agree to it. This then leads to a binding assessment. This is then subject to a fee, whereby the fees are well below court fees. This does not go quite as quickly as responding to a first inquiry because we need to prepare the proceedings. For this purpose, contracts are also concluded with the parties.

The Clearingstelle EEG | KWKG has been in existence for 15 years. You have both been there from day one  and are thus excellent contemporary witnesses. How would you sum up the overall result of this institution in this period of time?

Dr Winkler: The work of the Clearingstelle can be summed up as follows: We provide investment security and legal certainty for a wide array of actors. We have achieved this through the transmission of information and resolution of questions on interpretation and application.

Dibbern: I think that we managed to establish a dialogue between the different parties. Especially at the beginning of the energy transition, the different players  hardly talked to each other. I believe that the Clearingstelle can claim the merit for having significantly improved the mutual understanding between these actors.

Thank you very much for this conversation!

This Article is part of issue 04-2022 of the German Wind Power Magazine, the international magazine of the German Wind Energy Association (BWE) about innovations of the German wind industry. You can read the full magazine here, online and for free.