Moving in the right direction -- New Greek wind law

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A move in the right direction, but it all depends how it is implemented. This is the general reaction of the Greek renewables industry to the country's new renewable energy law, passed early June after a roller-coaster ride of raised hopes and disappointments (Windpower Monthly, March 2006). In the end, development minister Dimitris Sioufas seems to have taken on board some of the industry's concerns regarding the consultation document issued last spring. For the first time, Greece's EU renewables target of 20.1% of energy to come from renewables by 2010 -- of which wind power is to provide an estimated 2500-3500 MW -- and 29% by 2020 is enshrined in national law. The country currently has 640 MW of wind power.

A main aim of the law is to simplify and speed up the licensing procedure. Deadlines have now been introduced governing each stage of the process. On receipt of an application for a production license, independent energy regulator RAE has four months to make its recommendation to the minister, following which the minister has 15 days to announce a decision.

Next comes the installation licence. While the industry had hoped this stage would be centralised, the decision remains with the regional authorities, who must give their ruling within eight months of receiving the application "containing all required data, studies and approvals." If the regional governor fails to meet this deadline, projects over 40 MW and those in protected areas can be referred to the development minister, who has to give a ruling within 30 days. Finally, the utility buying the electricity has 15 days after "various final checks have been completed" to issue the operation licence.

Adhering to deadlines

In theory, this means the permitting process should take around one year, compared to up to three years in the past. How the authorities interpret the provisions, some of which are decidedly vague, is another matter. The other big question is whether the authorities will actually adhere to the deadlines and what happens if they do not, the law remains silent on the issue.

According to Ioannis Tsipouridis, president of the Hellenic Wind Energy Association (HWEA), past experience shows "the next authority in line waits and does not consider the lack of response as approval." Two new committees, however, are to be set up at a national level under the Ministry of Development to investigate and resolve problems. The minister will chair the committee handling projects over 30 MW, while the lower-level committee will deal with smaller projects.

Another significant change to the permitting process is more stringent requirements for a production licence. The application must now include wind measurements made by a certified company and a preliminary environmental impact study." The production licence now has real value," says Emmanuel Maragoudakis, managing director of Greek developer-operator Terna Energy. "The investment is now more likely to go ahead if you get the production licence."

Maragoudakis is less happy about the certified wind measurements. The requirement is a good thing, he agrees, but the law seems to suggest it will be applied retroactively to projects under development, negating measurements taken over the last decade. Since the only bodies able to certify the measurements are the Centre for Renewable Energy Sources, which promotes renewable energy, and two private companies, if new measurements have to be taken, this could cause a huge backlog and stop development for up to a year, he argues.

Purchase rates

Purchase prices under the new law remain unchanged: for major wind plant, the tariff is currently EUR 84.6 per MWh for installations on islands not connected to the grid and EUR 72.9 elsewhere. Purchase contracts are guaranteed for ten years with an option to renew for a further ten, with a new clarification that at the end of the first ten years the producer can unilaterally extend the contract for a further ten. For the first time, the law also sets a tariff for offshore wind of EUR 90 per/MWh. Hybrid systems, particularly wind coupled with hydro generation in islands, are also given a boost, with tariffs now calculated on a case-by-case basis according to local costs. This will allow greater penetration of wind in island grids. Support for photovoltaic systems has also been improved.

The law is "pretty much as expected," says Emmanuel Perakis of the Greek metals, energy and defence holding company Mytilineos, although he feels it could have been more radical in reducing paperwork and accelerating development.

Not a catalyst

Remaining hurdles include the problem of grid reinforcement and loopholes in the land-use planning regulations which mean projects can be delayed for months in the courts (Windpower Monthly, February 2006). The much anticipated new planning framework still has not been presented to parliament.

"The new law is not a catalyst for take-off, nor does it signal the end of renewables," says Tsipouridis. It solves some problems, leaves a lot unsolved and creates some new ones, he argues. But he does feel the Greek development minister is slowly coming round to see the value of renewable energy. In August, Sioufas reduced the unpopular renewables tax on electricity bills by 50% and also introduced a 5-6% rebate for customers who reduce their electricity consumption. "Just small things, but he is moving in the direct direction," says Tsipiouridis.

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