Utility threatens to disconnect wind

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North German utility Schleswag has found a new line of attack in the war of attrition against wind plant operators. It is demanding that new wind plant be equipped with a facility allowing the utility to shut turbines down in periods of low consumer demand for electricity. The utility says it will not take more electricity on to its grid than required at any one time. During periods of low demand, wind operators will be forced to reduce electricity input to the grid.

Schleswag's action has been branded as a clear violation of the Electricity Feed Law (EFL) by the wind lobby. The EFL obliges utilities to buy wind power at a premium price set by government.

Schleswag's Rainer Büsse says: "This is a prophylactic measure. By the end of the year, some 600 MW of rated wind capacity will feed into our grid compared with around 424 MW at the moment -- and the upwards trend will continue. This means that rated wind capacity is approaching a critical level where it will exceed the volume of Schleswag's power sales. Although peak winter power demand is as high as 1100 MW-1200 MW, on summer nights Schleswag sales may be as low as 500 MW." Büsse adds: "How can we sell surplus wind electricity at DEM 17.21/kWh at night [the EFL price] when demand for power is low everywhere?"

Büsse stresses that utility experts anticipate that capping wind output will only be necessary for a few 15 minute periods each year, usually at night. "The disconnections from the grid will take place according to the principle last in, first out." In other words, the wind stations most recently connected to the grid will be the first to be thrown off it.

Schleswag is only applying its new conditions to potential wind plant operators who have received positive grid connection notices from the utility since September 29, 1995. On this date, the Karlsruhe District Court ruled -- in a court case concerning a hydro plant operator -- that the legality of the EFL must be confirmed by the Federal Constitutional Court.

The wind lobby says Schleswag's action is blatantly illegal. The association of inland wind operators, IWB, points out: "Paragraph two of the ELF states expressly that utilities are obliged to take onto their grids all electricity generated by renewable energies in their supply areas."

Büsse retorts that Schleswag is acting under the EFL's hardship clause. This states that if strict adherence to the law leads to unacceptable hardship for a utility, then the obligation to purchase renewables should be passed back to the main supplying utility. Significantly, there is no allowance in the law for renewable generators to be shoved off the grid.

The discussion will no doubt end up in the courts. The problem is not likely to go away of its own accord -- some 2060 MW of wind is currently planned for Schleswag's supply area, according to the utility.

To rub salt into the wound inflicted on wind operators, Schleswag has also pointed out that payments made for electricity under the EFL are only "provisional," pending a final ruling on the legality of the law by the Federal Constitutional Court (FCC). This ruling is likely to be a long time coming, however. On January 9, the FCC rejected the case by the Karlsruhe Court as inadmissible. No further information has been made public since.

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