Depression over poor pricing, Austin conference blues

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The fourth Austrian wind symposium and exhibition was held against a background of considerable uncertainty within the young national wind industry. Installed wind capacity is growing fast, but at the same time potential operators are depressed and disheartened by the low rate of payment for wind electricity and lack of interest in renewable energies shown by the government coalition parties.

The conference, held April 24-25 in St Pöltern, learned that 38 wind turbines with a total rated capacity of 19 MW are in operation in Austria and a further 120 turbines are planned for installation this year. The total investment, once these machines are in the ground, will amount to ATS 700 million -- and by as early as the end of 1997 wind could account for 0.25% of Austria's power needs.

A crucial factor for the future, however, is the rate of pay for wind power. At the end of 1996, a provisional arrangement expired leaving a wind rate of just AUS 0.56-0.63/kWh. This is payable indefinitely, but is the lowest in Europe, as reported to the conference by Andreas Wagner of the Eurosolar lobby group. As a consequence -- and despite having completed licensing procedures -- several potential operators have laid their wind projects on ice.

On the second day of the event it emerged that despite several rounds of talks between the Austrian wind association, Interessengemeinschaft Windkraft (IWO), and energy spokespeople for the parliamentary parties, no concrete steps for improving the the wind tariff are planned. A resolution on renewables passed by parliament is so vague that everything remains open, participants heard.

It appears the economy ministry is hand-in-glove with the utilities in favouring a programme of investment subsidies. But the wind operators reject this model, arguing that while it would enable a few "chosen" projects to go ahead, there is no long term perspective in such a plan. Austrian wind proponents are aware that Germany abandoned such a strategy ten years ago after realising that a more effective use of public money was to promote a market, instead of subsidise development.

Neither the utilities nor parliamentary parties showed any interest in the St Pöltern event, declining to attend. No progress on achieving a proper rate of payment is now expected until the end of 1997 at the earliest.

The small exhibition accompanying the conference, "Aufwind 97," featured 23 companies and organisations and was attended by some 600 visitors. Energiewerkstatt, one of the organising companies, described the exhibition as the meeting point for future operators, government officials, utilities and others interested in wind energy. Turbine manufacturers, component suppliers and planning companies were also on the spot to display their products and inform the public. The wind energy symposium and exhibition, held to coincide with the 11th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, was organised and supported by Energiewerkstatt, IWO, four of the country's nine provinces, the city of Salzburg, the town of St Pöltern and others.

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