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Germany

Germany

INDUSTRY TAKING ON UTILITIES

Stadtwerke Geesthacht is peeved at having to buy electricity from an Enercon 500 kW, owned by Hamburger Asphaltwerke (HAM), at the high EFL rate, while HAM buys all its electricity from the grid on a favourable long term contract. This utility attitude seems to be stopping other industry from owning and operating wind plant in Germany. But the Beta oil refinery at Wilhelmshaven, on the coast of Lower Saxony, is planning to install a 16.5 MW wind station on its industrial site. The utility backlash against this commercial operation of wind plant is as yet of an unknown quantity.

The big debate over public acceptance of wind turbines in open landscape continues to roll back and forth over Germany. Meantime, industrialised areas in windy regions are rarely home to wind plant. Companies located on industrial estates -- with full access to the premium payments paid under Germany's Electricity Feed Law for sales of renewable energy -- seem not to have realised they are sitting on a veritable wind mine. Why is this so?

Wind energy as an avenue of profit for businesses has clearly not occurred to many of them. But for those it has, fear of stirring up trouble with the supplying utility seems to be the reason why any idea of doing something good for the environment and, incidentally, the company's green image, has been firmly stamped upon. The experience of the Hamburger Asphaltwerke (HAM) -- with just a single turbine installed in 1994 -- is a case in point (Windpower Monthly, June 1995.)

HAM has been chosen by a furious utility sector as a test case in its battle to have the EFL legally undermined before the Federal Constitutional Court. HAM's utility, Stadtwerke Geesthacht, is peeved at having to buy electricity from the Enercon 500 kW at the high EFL rate, while HAM buys all its electricity from the grid on a favourable long term contract. Stadtwerke would like to see HAM use its own wind power instead of selling it for extra profit. The case is now being discussed by energy ministry officials who are so far backing HAM. The aim is to find a compromise solution. A possible plan to sell the offending wind turbine to a HAM sister company could pull the rug out from under the utility's arguments, explains HAM's Ekkehard Papke.

The HAM case could be the tip of an emerging iceberg. Another industrial company is currently girding its loins for battle with the local utility. The Beta oil refinery at Wilhelmshaven, on the coast of Lower Saxony, is planning to install a 16.5 MW wind station on its industrial site. Eleven Enercon 1.5 MW turbines should be turning by early 1997. A planning application was lodged at the end of August, with expectations of success as the site is designated for wind development under local zoning plans.

"The location is a prime wind site," enthuses Beta managing director Johan van Weelden. "We have no problems with grid connection as the transformer station is at the corner of the wind site." Harnessing wind energy is an idea which has fascinated van Weelden for years. Now, high German electricity prices are encouraging him to turn an idea into reality. "I've worked in refineries in England, Holland and now Germany for some 30 years and have contemplated the idea of using the wind for a long time," he explains. "Initially I looked into using refinery stacks to carry turbines, and into using the updraught in the chimney itself. But that was all too expensive. This new project is the upshot of two main factors. Firstly, the electricity price the refinery has to pay is much too expensive -- DEM 0.06/kWh more than that in Holland. Secondly, I want to make use of the political decisions made in Lower Saxony supporting the use of wind energy to make the refinery more competitive."

The refinery will generate electricity from its wind station and sell it to utility EWE of Oldenburg at the premium EFL price. This will help to offset the higher price the refinery has to pay for electricity purchases from EWE compared with prices in Holland.

Van Weelden is prepared to fight hard for this arrangement. "I've no sympathy for the utilities," he says bluntly. He is scathing about utility complaints over the costs of wind energy and the constant demands for the burden to be spread across the whole of Germany. As Van Weelden points out, EWE distributes electricity generated by utility Preussenelektra, part of the major Veba Group. Veba has just announced a pre-tax profit increase of 46% to a massive DEM 2.2 billion for the first nine months of 1995. "In view of this, use of wind does not need to be subsidised by the rest of Germany," he contends.

The utility backlash against commercial operation of wind plant is as yet of an unknown quantity. There are other industrial companies operating wind turbines in Schleswig-Holstein which have not been subject to utility attack. Water pumping stations dotted around the state buy electricity from utility Schleswag but, like HAM, also supply wind generated electricity under a separate contract to Schleswag under the rules of the EFL.

Papke points out that Stadtwerke Geesthacht is treading a lone path in its treatment of HAM. Currently it is paying HAM for only some of its wind power at EFL rates, warning that these payments must be repaid if they are declared unconstitutional. Stadtwerke Geesthacht's parent, Schleswag, has abandoned this stance, apparently deciding to let its subsidiary face the High Court alone.

Looking beyond his factory gates, Papke observes: "There are an endless number of industrial sites where wind turbines could be installed. Look at the DEA refinery on the A23 near Hamburg. It uses an enormous amount of electricity. At night it's lit up like a Christmas tree." What Papke seems to have overlooked is the fact that the DEA is owned by RWE-DEA, sister company to Germany's major utility, RWE Energie -- an exceptionally cautious experimenter with wind energy.

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