Industry demands government action -- Growing frustration in Sweden

The global credit crisis may have subdued delegates attending the Vind2008 Swedish wind power conference last month, but it was the government's continued procrastination over implementing legislation for a long term market that put a chill in the air. New goals being touted by Sweden's Energy Authority (SEA) are meaningless until one of Sweden's key politicians, preferably Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt or energy minister Maud Olofsson, is ready to stand up and be wind's cheerleader, Matthias Rapp, of lobby group Swedish Windpower, told the 900 delegates gathered in Malmö.

To meet its obligations under the EU's renewable energy directive, the SEA says Sweden's renewables target must be increased from the existing goal for 17 TWh a year by 2016 to 30 TWh by 2020. Wind power would account for 25 TWh. But without high level political support, the target is "really nothing more than a paper product" and "has no teeth," said Rapp.

If the EU directive were to be achieved, that would require 13 GW of wind capacity by 2020, up from around 800 MW now, said Arthouros Zervos from the European Wind Energy Association. Offshore capacity could account for 3 GW of that.

Swedish Windpower notes the significant volume of projects in planning. Around 30 wind farms, each with rated capacities over 20 MW, have all the necessary permits in place. A few are under construction. In addition, another 30 projects, representing about 6.2 TWh of annual generation, are making their way through the Swedish planning system. As a result, the country is expected to meet its 2016 goal for 7-8 TWh of annual generation from wind on the way to its overall 17 TWh renewables target.

Annual build rates need to significantly increase, however, for the 2020 targets to be achieved, says the association. Last year was a record one for Sweden's wind industry, but just 217 MW of new plant came online. For the 2020 targets to be met, more than 1000 MW of new wind capacity needs to be commissioned each year from now on.

A public consultation on the country's project permitting system is being conducted following calls for it to be simplified. A proposed amendment to Sweden's planning legislation is for wind project planning applications to be decided exclusively by Sweden's environment ministry, rather than also being dealt with by the building authority. But that alone would not be enough to encourage the extra development needed, said Hans von Uthmann from utility Vattenfall, adding that a "quick" adjustment of Sweden's green certificates system is also required.

The Swedish wind market is based on electricity retailers acquiring green certificates to demonstrate they are complying with a legal obligation to include a growing proportion of green power in their supply mix. But that market is set to fall off a cliff in 2014 under current legislation. The obligation needs extending out into the future if the market is to keep on growing and SEA's targets are to be met, Von Uthmann said. Both he and Rapp called on the government to act with speed.

Any decision to change the system would take about two years to get through its legal paces and be finally approved, Rapp said, so deciding what changes to make is "imperative now to avoid a lapse in investor confidence." Sweden should not wait until talks on a common Norwegian-Swedish certificate market are concluded, he added.

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