Schleswag's solution to this perceived dilemma is to curtail the output of selected wind turbines -- and to hell with clean power. The utility proposes making its selection based on a "last on the grid, first off it" system. Effectively this would mean disconnecting the newest machines -- those most likely to be operating at the peak of wind plant efficiency.
If Schleswag was coping with overproduction on a desert island this approach might have some merit. An island grid with unlimited supply would at some point reach full load, leaving no option but to dump electricity. But the grid in Schleswig Holstein is interconnected to the entire European electricity network, controlled by some of the most high tech equipment known to the power supply industry. With little more effort required than a couple of telephone calls, the utility could send at least 4000 MW southwards into the rest of Germany. Yet Schleswag is biting its nails over 600 MW -- the amount of installed wind capacity expected on its grid by the end of the year. Conveniently, the utility seems to have forgotten that normally wind plant would be attributed a capacity factor of not much more than 30%. It would be an unlucky day indeed for Schleswag if sales of electricity in the region dipped to their all time low of 500 MW at exactly the same time as the entire region's wind plant were operating at full load.
Schleswag argues that it cannot export wind power from its area economically. The Electricity Feed Law (EFL) obliges it to pay a premium price for all renewable energy generated by independent operators. This price, the argument goes, could never be recouped by a utility backed up against a dearth of demand on a summer night. Such inflexibility of attitude, in an age when avoiding pollution is a major priority on agendas around the world, is sheer madness. Especially when existing law allows Schleswag to take a far more reasonable route.
The politicians who signed the EFL into being anticipated that for small utilities, paying a premium price for all electricity generated by a growing renewable energy sector could become an intolerable financial burden. For this reason the law includes a hardship clause, allowing district utilities to pass on the cost of paying for renewable power to their parent companies. In Schleswag's case, this is European electricity giant, Preussenelektra. And if Preussenelektra was forced to the brink of economic ruin by occasional sales of wind power at below market prices, it, by law, is allowed to pass on the cost to customers. Not that this is likely. A recent study* reports that Preussenelektra's reserves of cash for decommissioning nuclear power plant (when the time comes) were DEM 4.7 billion in 1994 -- and growing. We could suppose that interest of 5% is paid on these savings, giving Preussenelektra an extra annual income of DEM 235 million. Purchase of renewables in the whole of Germany is currently costing the utility sector about DEM 135 million, with DEM 55 million going to hydro. What was that about Schleswag's economic difficulty with possible sales of wind?
The moral of this story is that monopoly control of power generation and supply is a bad thing and that an overhaul of the management of Germany's archaic utility network -- dating from the 1930s -- is hopelessly overdue. With the electricity grid linked from Scandinavia to Greece, there is no reason wind power in Europe should not happily flow to where it is needed. There is every reason to argue against wind output being curtailed. If the long discussed but still stymied Internal Energy Market in Europe were a reality, this debate would anyway be obsolete. Schleswag would be laughing all the way to the bank, its pockets stuffed with lucrative contracts for sales of wind energy to customers demanding green electricity. These customers would include other utilities struggling to meet their non fossil fuel quotas. If all this sounds far fetched, take a look at Britain or even the American Northwest. That's the direction they are headed in.
*Volkswirtschaftliche Vorteile und höhere Finanzierungssicherheit durch einen Stillegungs- und Entsorgungsfonds by Wolfgang Irrek for Wuppertal Institut