Austrian wind sector in uproar

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Profits for owners of wind turbines in Austria could be slashed by up to 50% if a proposal by the country's energy regulator to raise network charges this year is adopted, says IG Windkraft, a wind turbine owners group. Electricity generators currently only pay for system services, but regulator E-Control wants a contribution towards running the transmission grid to help cover network losses.

Under E-Control's proposed new regulation, generators will shoulder 3% of the annual EUR 1.8 billion transmission bill, with end consumers paying the other 97%. IG Windkraft says the proposal could effectively raise network charges by 130-270% to EUR 0.0025-0.0041/kWh. The regulation, however, will only apply to power plant with a generating capacity of more than 5 MW, up from the current 1 MW threshold for system services charges. In raising the threshold, E-Control says it is limiting the impact of the change to mainly plant majority-owned by the large energy companies.

But IG Windkraft disagrees. "There are 162 wind stations totalling 984 MW and 84% of the capacity is turning in wind stations exceeding 5 MW," says the organisation's Stefan Hantsch. "It is not just the large energy companies that are affected. Independent operators such as WEB, Windkraft Simonsfeld and Ökoenergie Wolkersdorf will also be hit, and much harder, because wind energy is their only line of business." The proposal, Hantsch warns, will have serious effects on the viability of wind projects. "For a typical wind station, profitability will drop by about half," he says.

Wolfgang Urbantschitsch at E-Control says the wind lobby is exaggerating the problem. Wind turbine operators get paid a rate for their electricity, set in 2002, which is based on an expected 2000-2200 full load hours of operation a year. Urbantschitsch points out that the larger wind farms in Austria have been operating at 2300-2400 full load hours annually, some 100-400 hours more than anticipated when rates were set. "An extra 50 full load hours would cover the extra costs that will be introduced by the new regulation," he says.

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