So far government activity in Austria has been limited to a 1993 report announcing its intention to install some medium to large wind turbines in pilot projects. But the projects have never materialised. "Austrian wind energy needs a 50 MW market introduction programme and much improved, reliable payment for renewables generated electricity," says Hans Winkelmeier from the Austrian wind energy operator's association, IG Windkraft, in Friedburg. This will be a strong demand of the third national wind symposium in Austria, to be held in St Poltern next month.
Austrian wind power has been struggling for life for well over a decade. Back in 1981, Walter Pokomy completed his analysis of Austrian wind energy potential. He came to the unexpected conclusion that the mountainous country, deep in the heart of Europe, was capable of generating a considerable 6.6-10 TW of wind power each year. But despite his report, wind energy has gained virtually no visible foothold in Austria. At the end of 1994 there were only some 16 small off-grid turbines and three more connected to the grid.
There are several reasons for wind energy's failure to take root in Austria. Hydro power is already well established as a renewable source, supplying some 60% of the country's electricity. And wind power has always been associated with windy coastlines, rather than inland mountainous regions. At the same time, wind was considered too expensive in a country where electricity rates are already low.
By 1993, however, it seemed the climate was finally warming to wind. A government trade committee, the National Council, passed a recommendation to the Economic Affairs Ministry to support the use of renewable energies with higher rates of pay for the power produced. It recommended that solar and wind electricity should be paid double the normal rate for a period of three years. Unfortunately the government showed little backbone in pushing the demands through and the initiative ran aground. In the end, only a few utilities signed a much watered down general agreement which placed them under no obligation to pay more for solar or wind energy. Not surprisingly, only 293 kW of wind power was installed in Austria in 1994.
Meanwhile, spurred on by wind's forward march overseas, the Austrian wind lobby remains determined. Studies have shown that the cost of installing wind stations in Austria is comparable with that for the rest of Europe. Significantly, it has also become apparent that wind energy would be an ideal complement to Austria's relatively decentralised electricity system, with its many hydro plant. Most wind power would be generated in winter, while most hydro is produced in Austria in the summer months. Wind energy could be stored, too, by pumping water into hydro reservoirs for later use.
The wind lobby has concluded that the best way to exert pressure for change is to get on with planning wind projects and then demand the necessary economic framework. At the moment plans for 12 projects, for a total of 12 MW and 29 turbines, are underway.