New law could halt progress -- Austria's feed-in rates

The Austrian wind lobby is hailing the new "eco-electricity" law as beneficial to the industry. But the finer details of the legislation may yet floor the country's fledgling market. The Ökostromgesetz requires 4% of the country's electricity to come from eligible renewable energy sources by January 1, 2008, with an additional 9% to be contributed by small hydro power stations. It also allows for a system of premium payments for renewables generated power.

"At last we have a clear payment system for a ten year period, similar to Germany's," says Stefan Hantsch of the Austrian wind association, IG Windkraft. "If half the 4% target is met with wind energy then we need to install 500 MW" he says. Austria has 100 MW installed so far.

Hantsch fears, however, that a cost cap on the premium levied on consumers for green electricity of EUR 0.0016/kWh could prevent the 4% and 9% targets from being reached. Furthermore, Austria's tariffs for renewable energy have yet to be decided by the federal ministries for economy, environment and consumer protection. Tariff discussions are still being held with the governments of Austria's nine states.

So far, tariffs have varied widely from state to state. IG Windkraft fears the economy ministry may accept the electricity regulator's proposals for a tariff of EUR 0.068/kWh. "This is less than most Austrian states pay now, and at the bottom of the scale of European feed-in tariffs," says Hantsch. He says regulator Walter Boltz, head of E-Control, is siding with the conventional energy sector and is "not interested in seeing wind power grow." If no new plant go online over the next few years, Boltz will "only then consider adjusting the tariffs," adds Hantsch. Ironically, wind developers are now trying to get turbines up "so they can benefit from the old feed-in rates," he says.

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