Good conditions for green pricing

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With two wind projects and a national wind energy association on the way, the tiny Swiss wind market is showing signs of growth -- but not until 1999. As of today, just 2 MW of wind power is running. Few companies have reacted to the encouraging results of a study last year that identified 1.6 TWh of annual wind generating energy potential in Switzerland, or about 3.5% of the national electricity consumption (Windpower Monthly, January 1997).

"Wind energy is being held back by the low rate of payment for wind generated power and the lack of other methods of market support," says Robert Horbaty, head of the wind energy programme at Bundesamt für Energie (BFE), the federal energy office. A 1991 ruling on energy use, Energienutzungsbeschluss, requires utilities to pay only CHF 0.16/kWh for the first one million kilowatt hours of electricity, he says. "This decision is due to be replaced by full energy legislation within the next two years, but at the moment it looks as though the 'sixteen rappen' are here to stay."

Under these conditions only a single wind turbine is likely to be installed in 1998, Horbaty says, and this is by a company owned by a utility. Juvent, based in Basle, is to install a fourth Vestas 600 kW alongside three of the same model at its wind station at Mt Crosin. Sponsors have been found for selling the power through a green pricing offer where customers will pay about CHF 0.36/kWh to receive wind power, CHF 0.20/kWh more than the standard rate in recognition of wind's environmental value. So far, enough capital has resulted to cover project costs, Horbaty says.

In the pipeline

Horbaty predicts Switzerland will see new generating capacity of 10 MW or more by next year when two projects come to fruition. Preliminary investigations indicate that a wind station of 9-12 MW may be feasible at Le Mont de Cerfas or La Gite Dessus, two sites near Sainte Croix in the French speaking part of the country. It would generate electricity at a cost of between CHF 0.17-0.25/kWh, according to Interwind, a consulting company based in Zurich in charge of researching the potential. A feasibility study has been commissioned by the municipality of Sainte Croix, supported by the Vaud canton and the federal government.

Interwind says that if the project goes ahead, the operator entity will consist of Sainte Croix, Vaud, the local utility and other possible participants. Green pricing will most likely be used as a marketing tool, which has already sparked the initial interest of distributor utility Romande Energie in Morges, according to Beatrice Langraf of Interwind.

"Three possible customers are the local university and two towns close by," she says, adding that green pricing has great potential in Switzerland: customers are used to paying high rates for electricity. In fact, average household electricity prices in several cantons, such as Neuenburg, Appenzell and Zug, are as high as CHF 0.25/kWh -- about twice the average cost of subsidised wind energy in European countries like Denmark or Holland, and considerably more than the CHF 0.16/kWh paid in Germany, according to Interwind.

A second project under investigation is for a 3 MW station at Flumserberg near the Walensee lake southeast of Zurich. C&N Engineering of St Gallen is the developer, a company mainly active in building and road construction that came to wind power through its German subsidiary in Riesa, which has been involved in several wind energy projects. "We thought we should investigate the opportunities in Switzerland too," says the company's Reto Antenen.

Ski lifts and tourist facilities already operate at the potential site, 2000 metres above sea level on the Flumserberg hills. A grid feed-in point is also available, Antenen says. In November, C&N set up wind measuring masts in the area, with financial aid from the local St Gallen government and the BFE. Results will be evaluated in four or five months. "We don't yet know exactly what size of wind park we will build," he says.

C&N, meanwhile, is setting up an independent wind company, Windrose, to take over the project. Antenen says C&N has already approached local and regional utilities for support, but green pricing is a definite option for financing its developments.

Urging growth

Meanwhile a Swiss wind energy association will be formally founded later this year, Horbaty says. The BFE has spent most of its limited funds on identifying and analysing more sites for wind energy development. "To carry out the projects, potential operators must seek support elsewhere," he stresses. The office is also publishing a handbook for wind energy planners to be released by the end of this year. Furthermore, BFE has urged the 26 cantons to carry out regional studies to earmark suitable sites for wind development. One pilot programme in Neuenburg is to be complete by mid 1998, he adds.

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