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GETTING THE MARKET ROLLING

A conference and workshop aimed at getting the wind market moving in Austria attracted many more participants than expected. The Austrian wind lobby is pushing for a 50 MW wind energy support programme, preceded by a pilot programme of 5 MW, as well as adequate payment by utilities for wind generated electricity. In Austria 22 projects (22.5 MW) are being planned and the article lists these along with kWh payment now on offer from the five major utilities. German participants warned about the dangers of trusting utility statements on commitment to wind. Austria gets 94% of its electricity from hydro and the vision of the environmentally minded population is to claim that 100% comes from renewables. A report from the Czech Republic was also presented at the symposium and it was pointed out that Austria would be a good industrial base for serving its neighbours to the east.

Only 30 people had registered for a workshop on the eve of Austria's "3rd Wind Energy Symposium," but in the event around 150 turned up. "We are totally surprised about the enormous interest in the wind conference and are terribly pleased," said a clearly delighted Hans Winkelmeier from conference organisers Energiewerkstatt of Friedburg. He was welcoming participants to the workshop in St Pöltern, the regional capital of Lower Austria. Coincidentally it was held on April 26, the ninth anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

The workshop was aimed at pushing forward with the Austrian wind lobby's demand for a 50 MW wind energy support programme and an adequate payment by utilities for wind generated electricity (Windpower Monthly, May 1995). Where only 50 or 60 people had been expected at the event, more than double that number crowded into the gracious art-nouveau salon in the St Pöltern town hall. Admittedly a good number of these were invited representatives from German wind energy companies but, if anything, this testified to the great interest in developing the embryonic Austrian market and the faith that such a market even exists. The Austrians were looking to their German neighbours, with experience of a decade of wind development, for good advice.

The only serious disappointment of the workshop evening was the failure of even one of the five energy policy spokespeople for Austria's main political parties to put in an appearance "due to parliamentary commitments." However, in retrospect, this was perhaps no bad thing as some useful discussion took place to fine tune the Austrian wind energy sector's demands. As a result a polished packet, rather than a medley of viewpoints, will be put before politicians.

Getting the ball rolling, Winkelmeier pointed out that the first purely meteorological study of Austria's wind potential, carried out in 1981 for the Science Ministry, established an annual wind power potential of between 660,000 and 100,000 GWh -- the theoretical equivalent to some 20% of Austria's electricity consumption. He went on to point out that Austria's wind resource is comparable to that in Germany's inland areas and, as in Germany, should be taken seriously.

In Austria today, 22 projects, made up of 45 turbines and amounting to 22.5 MW are currently being planned. They are predicted to produce around 34,000 MWh per year or 0.1% of national electricity consumption. Total investment in the 22.5 MW will amount to some ATS 350 million, excluding ATS 44 million to be spent by the Verbund utility on its own wind project (see next story).

A major obstacle to realising these projects, however, is the low payment on offer for wind generated electricity. A market introduction programme is needed as a catalyst to get things moving. Speaking of the wind station planned in his parish, the mayor of Zurndorf, Rudolf Suchy, said: "Although negotiations for project financing are already advanced, the realisation of the project is endangered by the stubborn and inflexible position of both Austrian energy policy and the electricity industry."

The workshop went on to outline what needed to be done for a 50 MW market stimulation programme to succeed, preceded by a pilot programme of 5 MW. Leaning on Germany's experience, five prerequisites were identified:

¥ Electricity payments should be increased by 100%. Current rates date from a statutory order issued by the Ministry for Economic Affairs on April 29, 1992 and range from ATS 0.527/kWh to ATS 0.617/kWh, depending on whether power is supplied during low or peak periods of demand. Five utilities pay higher rates following a government recommendation in autumn 1993 that payment for solar and wind should be increased by 100% -- for a limited period of three years only (table). For anybody operating turbines in utility OKA's jurisdiction, though, the economics are a little more secure. OKA has agreed to pay 50% on top of the standard payment for plants of under 2 MW capacity, ATS 0.926/kWh, once the three year period is up. More recently Wien-Strom has agreed to pay an average of nearly ATS 1.5/kWh for three years, and half this sum for a further five years. This compares with rates paid in Germany for wind which are the equivalent of ATS 1.21/kWh under its Electricity Feed Law, plus ATS 0.42/kWh to projects selected for inclusion in the 250 MW support programme, a total of ATS 1.63/kWh. According to Hans Winkelmeier, at least ATS 1.3/kWh is necessary.

¥ A fair rate of pay should apply for 15 years after the wind plant comes into operation.

¥ Capital subsidies of 30% should be a part of the 55 MW programme, starting with flexible subsidies of 25-40% during the 5 MW pilot phase.

¥ Before the 55 MW wind programme expires, a follow up system of market support should be in place.

¥ Participants in the programme should agree to make their operating data available for a scientific measuring and evaluation programme.

The timetable for the 55 MW programme should be about five years and the budget about ATS 240 million, says the lobby. This would lead to a total investment in wind power under the programme of around ATS 800 million. The 150-170 turbines supported would meet about 0.2% of Austria's electricity requirement and save some 50,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions.

Policy discussions

Parallel to this wind lobby initiative, the Austrian federal and state governments are discussing a fiscal policy for renewables. Just over a month ago a so-called "Staatsvertrag" was signed between the two for reducing CO2 emissions and introducing the concept of least cost planning. But no decision was made on who should foot the bill for the higher cost of electricity that would result. The federal government puts responsibility firmly at the feet of the states, while they argue that energy policy should be handled nationally. Andreas Szeless from Austria's largest generating company, Verbund, stressed that his utility is very much in favour of using renewable sources of energy -- already 90% of his company's electricity comes from hydro plant. Verbund generates about 54% of Austria's electricity.

However, German participants at the Austrian event warned about the dangers of trusting such utility statements. Although senior employees of the utilities are often sincerely in favour of the use of renewables and do all they can to promote their use, managers currently feel threatened by the trend towards decentralised electricity generation structures. This is a powerful influencing force against renewables. To illustrate the point, a potential wind turbine owner explained that his local utility had demanded a "frequency and voltage stabilisation levy" of ATS 130,000 for a single 500 kW machine. "New morals and ethics in the energy supply sector are needed," he said.

Broad based symposium

While the workshop covered many of the political aspects of wind energy in Austria, the symposium aimed at providing a broad and informative overview of wind. Much advice was handed down on the practical business of wind turbine development and operation. Although the Austrians are fairly new to wind energy, decentralised energy generation is not unfamiliar to them. Farmers in particular are accustomed to making private investment in electricity generation. There are already 66 biomass heat and power plant in Lower Austria and the first "acceptance problems" with transport of biomass have been encountered. Use of solar energy is also growing fast in Austria. Total installed capacity amounts to around one million square metres, principally for water heating, with the growth rate running at some 10% per year.

Austria currently gets 94% of its electricity from hydro sources, yet the vision of the country's environmentally minded population is to be able to claim that 100% comes from renewable sources. This target is fascinatingly close to being reached and for this reason alone, Austria is clearly a promising market. Add to this the potential of its eight neighbouring countries, Germany, the Czech and Slovak Republics, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy Switzerland and Lichtenstein, then Austrian wind lobbyists point out that the country could be an excellent base for a wind turbine manufacturer.

A report from the Czech republic was presented at the symposium by Ivan Sladek. He informed an amused audience that the republic "has more turbines installed than France," reminding everyone that the wind does not stop blowing at the Austrian border.

Elfi Salletmaier, from Energiewerkstatt's conference organisation, believes the growing attendance at Austria's wind symposiums is an accurate barometer of the nation's interest in wind energy. At the first symposium in 1992, just 40 people took part. A year later, 70 people attended. And this year's event boasted 220. An "Enquete," or meeting, on April 28, aimed at providing wind energy information to local politicians, also attracted a larger audience than bargained for. Salletmaier had expected 70 politicians, but over 150 people registered. So at the last minute the venue had to be rearranged -- this involved moving the St Pöltern snow ploughs from their summer quarters into the great outdoors and turning their storage building into a meeting hall.

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