Inroads in Austria but all uphill

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Despite a lack of regulatory financing for wind power in Austria, German wind turbine manufacturer Enercon managed to land three projects in 1997 and expects to have another wind station on line by April. The final project of the 1997 trio -- a development of six E40 turbines -- was erected in December for utility Burgenländischen Elektrizitätswirtschaft at a site near Zurndorf, 60 kilometres east of Vienna.

This project received 60% investment support -- 30% from the federal government and 30% from the European Union regional aid programme. The company reports that the Zurndorf wind plant is the largest wind station in Austria and will probably double in size this year.

In the pipeline now are plans for five E40 turbines for installation at Pottenbrum, 20 kilometres east of St Pöltern, for a private operator. A 30% federal grant from the economy ministry, distributed through the state of Niederösterreich, has been awarded to help cover the cost of grid connection, "which would otherwise have been very high," explains Friedrich Herzog of Enercon Österreich, Enercon's Austrian subsidiary. Austrian renewable energy generators are still arguing with utilities over a flat rate charge for grid connection of ATS 280 for each kilowatt of rated power.

"Private projects can only go ahead with some kind of investment support since utilities pay merely ATS 0.55 a kilowatt hour for wind power," says Herzog. This price is about half the rate paid in neighbouring Germany under the country's Renewable Energy Feed in Tariff (REFIT).

In May last year, Enercon Österrich installed a 200 kW turbine on Donau island, a popular recreation area. Local utility Wienstrom operates the machine. And in November, a private operator installed a 500 kW E40 turbine at Plöckenpass, 1300 metres above sea level.

The Plöckenpass project has encountered a deal of difficulty in reaching a power purchase agreement with the local utility, Celag Klagenfurt. It refuses to pay more than the standard federal rate for wind power -- despite the fact that the Kaernten state government set a rate for renewables a year ago of ATS 2.0/kWh. "A dispute is now brewing," says Herzog. "The operator is having to make up the losses as best he can with other activities -- tourism, and the operation of two pumped storage hydro plant." Developers of renewable energy plant in Austria are still awaiting help long promised by the ministries of environment and agriculture in the form of a planned ATS 300 million annual fund. It has yet to be implemented.

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