Little comfort in new amendment

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The row over Austria's support framework for renewable energy -- which has gone on for over a year and saw wind development in the country come to a halt at the end of 2004 -- is set to continue into the middle of this year. With a proposed amendment to the country's renewables energy law, the Ökostromgesetz, having failed to get through parliament in 2004 after vehement opposition from the wind lobby, among others, the parliamentary economics committee has now put a revised amendment before parliament. Many of the original's controversial elements remain.

The Austrian wind energy organisation Interessengemeinschaft Windkraft Österreich (IG Windkraft) is again up in arms over the proposed amendment, which once more includes a cap of EUR 17 million a year in support for new wind plant and other renewable energies (with the exception small hydro) to 2011. Of this, wind would be expected to get around 30%, or EUR 5.1 million -- enough for less than 60 MW of development a year, says Stefan Hantsch of IG Windenergie. Moreover, the funds will be distributed to projects on a first-come, first-served basis, "giving no legal or investment security," says IG Windkraft, arguing the amendment "amputates eco-electricity."

In addition, new tariff rates for renewables are still to be set. "All we know is the rates will be fixed anew each year, to run for ten years at the 100% rate, before dropping to 75% in the 11th year and 50% in the 12th year, which could mean they fall below the market price," says IG Windkraft's Stefan Moidl.

Parliament is expected to make a decision on the amendment within the next few months. Even so, the amendment may be blocked by the European Commission. Austrian support for renewables is partly financed through a levy on the consumer price of power irrespective of whether the electricity is generated at home or abroad, while renewables support is granted only to plant installed in Austria -- a market distortion that at least in spirit breaks EU rules on public aid. The Commission may well have the final say on Austria's renewables law.

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