Waiting with trepidation for land use plan -- Not much growth in Greece

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It was a disappointing year in Greece, with just 124.55 MW installed in 2007 compared with 155.7 MW in the previous year, bringing the national total to 871 MW. The slow progress in especially frustrating in a country with "good wind potential, excellent places to build and the knowledge and the funds to proceed," says Athanasios Tsantilas of Rokas, the country's dominant wind plant owner and operator. "The projects are there, the financial strength is there and there are no technical problems, but we are not galloping," he laments.

Part of the problem is delays caused by new administrative procedures, such as more stringent requirements for a production licence, introduced in the renewable energy law passed mid-2006, says Emmanuel Maragoudakis of Greek wind project developer-operator Terna Energy. First there was the wait for the new law. Then it took at least six months to get the necessary ministerial decrees in place, agrees Tsantilas. He feels the bureaucratic procedures are "not so fast and getting slower."

But the main spanner in the works is the lack of a long awaited national land use plan for renewable energy which will outline where wind plant can be built. A draft plan was published last February and nothing much has happened since. It seems that discussions may be revived this spring. Meantime, anyone objecting to a project can take the case to court on the grounds that no land use plan exists. One example of a project blocked in the courts is Rokas' 43.7 MW facility at Gantza in the Fthiotida region of central mainland Greece, the country's biggest to date. The plant is 80% built but cannot be completed until the court has made its decision.

While the industry is keen to see a plan in place, it has reservations about some of the proposals, such as limiting wind plant to occupying no more than 8% of a municipal area on the mainland and Evia island and 4% on isolated islands, irrespective of the wind resource. This would put paid to some of the larger projects under development, with at least 330 MW on Skyros in danger. At the same time, islands may not generate more than 30% of their electricity needs from renewables for fear of endangering security of supply, turbines cannot be erected within 1.5 kilometres of a "traditional settlement" or archaeological site or within one kilometre of "small settlements" and tourist locations. On the other hand, they must be within 20 kilometres of an existing road.

The wind industry believes the plan is "heading in the right direction" and allows a basis from which to work. Beyond that it has grave doubts about whether the plan represents progress. "The threat of the administrative court hanging round our necks," will not be removed, fears Tsantilas.

Foreign investment

The stream of investment flooding into the Greek market seems as strong as ever. "Foreign interest has actually grown because of the slow market, with investors buying projects, establishing a position and waiting," says Ioannis Tsipouridis, president of the Hellenic Wind Energy Association (HWEA). Among many deals last year, Spanish utility Iberdrola increased its stake in Rokas to 52.7%, while Spain's Endesa agreed to form a joint venture with local metals and engineering group Mytilineos to create the country's largest independent power producer. This includes Mytilineos' thermal and renewable energy holding plus a portfolio of licences representing 1000 MW.

Another joint venture currently being finalised is that between Italian utility Edison and Hellenic Petroleum, a major player in Greece's hydrocarbon industry, which are targeting up to 100-400 MW of wind power and hydroelectricity. And recently the Greek utility, the Public Power Corporation (PPC), revealed it was in talks with Germany's RWE to form a partnership enabling PPC to expand its operations, also in renewables, to compensate for loss in revenue and market share since the Greek energy market was liberalised last year.

Other foreign entities taking a position in the market are Enel of Italy, which bought a wind portfolio of 127 MW last summer, and global asset management firm Babcock & Brown, with a more modest 42 MW bought from Germany's Penta Holding AG. European and American mutual fund managers also showed confidence in the market when Terna listed on the Athens stock exchange in November; the offering was 3.5 times oversubscribed. Around half the EUR 300 million raised will be invested in wind power projects in Greece and 16% abroad, particularly the Balkans and China.

What next?

Given the uncertainties surrounding the national land use plan, views are mixed as to how much will be installed in 2008. Maragoudakis is optimistic that things will start moving again, even if only as far as obtaining licences and starting construction. Tsantilas also looks forward to an increase in activity, but admits the "track record of the last two-to-three years does not give much hope." The Greek government must "be behind wind 100%," and ready to cut the miles of red tape constricting growth.

Tsipouridis is even more despondent. "The government's mind is on other things," he feels. "Everything is in place, but we just do not know any more how long it will take." On the positive side, he says public interest in and awareness of wind power has been growing.

There is also some good news from transmission operator HTSO, which will soon complete a new 400 kV line linking Greece and Turkey, allowing the absorption of an extra 200-500 MW of wind energy in Macedonia and Thrace; the exact amount depends on the size of a new thermal plant to be built in the region.

On the other hand, a new line connecting southern Evia, where an extra 530 MW of wind is waiting to be unlocked, to the mainland has been delayed because of opposition from environmentalists. The completion date has been pushed back to 2009. HTSO is also proposing a 400 kV link to the Peloponnese, though not before 2012. Environmental objections are again likely to be a factor.

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