Big plans to send wind across the Adriatic -- Albania scratches Italy's back

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Albania is expected to end 2008 as it began, with not a single megawatt of wind capacity installed, but that may not last for long. A number of Italian or Italy-focused wind project developers are working on how best to exploit the Albanian resource as a way for Italy to meet its renewable energy targets. Plans are to send much of the wind electricity produced in Albania back home.

Italy is hard-pressed to meet its EU target for 17% renewables by 2020, from around 6% today, without imports. A bilateral treaty between Italy and Albania allows wind project developers to take advantage of Italy's attractive incentive prices for wind energy.

Sicily-based Moncada, a major player in its home wind market, appears to have the most ambitious Albanian plans. The company recently received approval from Albania's government to construct a 500 MW wind plant in the south of the country, a project it says will be the biggest in Europe to date. It plans to open the construction site at the end of the year. Moncada has also been given the go-ahead to build a 500 MW, 400 kV merchant transmission line stretching over 145 kilometres between Valona in southern Albania and Brindisi in southern Italy.

"The wind farm is designed essentially for importing electricity into Italy and will give Italy a hand in reaching its renewable energy commitments," says Moncada's Girolamo Caruso. At the same time the project will bring jobs and skills to Albania. "Considering that currently there's not even a megawatt of wind capacity installed, the chance to have a large industrial group with this know-how is an opportunity," he says.

"It's important to be able to export because the price of electricity in Albania is quite low," says Guy Teuwissen of Italian renewables group Asja Ambiente Italia. Yet Albania, overwhelmingly dependent on old hydro plants, is also sorely in need of energy itself, with blackouts several hours a day the norm. Teuwissen says a compromise solution could be to allocate a portion of electricity produced in Albania at the lower prices producers can fetch there.

Asja has nine Albanian wind projects in the pipeline although, given difficulties with the Albania grid, Teuwissen realistically just three or four to be running by 2012, with the first online in 2011. They would have a combined capacity of about 90 MW. A major obstacle for wind producers is the poor state of the Albanian electricity network. Frequent blackouts mean wind turbines may go into emergency stop mode at an unacceptably high rate unless a technical solution is found to prevent that from happening.

Despite the difficulties, Moncada and Asja are far from alone in their Albanian intentions. Diversified Italian firm Italgest is investing EUR 210 million for a 150 MW wind farm south of Durazzo it says should be authorised later this year. Swiss-based renewables group EnergyMixx, which considers Italy its home market, also plans to have a 178 MW wind plant operating by end-2009. Italian-Albanian company Green Energy, part of the Italian Marseglia Group, is seeking authorisation to build a 290 MW wind farm in northern Albania.

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