Austria boom likely to stop

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Around EUR 275 million was invested in 117 turbines totalling 218 MW in Austria in 2005, bringing the cumulative total to 819 MW from 531 turbines, reports the Austrian wind energy association IG Windkraft. That should swell to 950 MW this year. Wind power can now deliver around 1.6 TWh/year, sufficient to meet the 15% of the country's electricity demand, says the association's Stefan Hantsch.

Industry concern that investment will grind to a halt is growing, however, with the Austrian government's planned amendment to the eco-electricity law set to introduce an annual limit on renewables support. When the allocated annual sum is used up, support will stop. In addition, the obligation on network companies to take renewable energy onto the grid is due to expire after 13 years in force. Wind and other renewable plant operators will have to market their electricity on the open market and compete directly with Austria's powerful incumbent energy companies.

"Nobody can invest under these conditions," says Hantsch. The amendment, passed by the parliamentary economics committee in November, is currently held up by discussions with the European Commission over whether the existing renewables feed-in tariff complies with subsidy rules. The tariff expired in 2004 and the 128 MW likely to be installed in 2006 must be up by the middle of the year to still qualify for premium payments.

If talks with the EU conclude swiftly and do not affect the amendment, it should quickly be passed by parliament. If not, the debate will begin all over again. With national elections due in the autumn the amendment could be pushed to the back burner until well into 2007.

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