Fears for clash with miniature horses -- Skirmish on Skyros

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Greek environmentalists and local islanders are up in arms about a huge wind power project to be located on an Aegean island inhabited by the rare Eleonora falcon and a unique species of miniature horse. The project is initially for 330-350 MW using 3 MW turbines, for an estimated cost of around EUR 500 million and a completion date of 2010.

It is being developed by Enteka, an Athens-based engineering and consultancy company with a long track record in wind power, in association with the local monastery, which owns most of the site. The project also includes laying a 150 kilometre cable over the seabed and across Evia island to connect with the main 400 kV trunk line. Enteka has submitted the initial application for a production licence to Greece's independent energy regulator, RAE.

Opponents say the project is too large for an island of only 215 square kilometres and will affect tourism, damage the environment and endanger the Skyrian horse, of which only 140 remain. Constantinos Philippidis, head of Enteka, disagrees. The turbines would cover less than 15% of the island, he says, be at least ten kilometres from the nearest houses and mostly hidden behind a mountain range on the rocky and barren south side of the island, which is rarely visited by tourists.

Enteka has completed a preliminary environmental impact study as part of its application to RAE and modified the project to take account of sites of particular environmental importance. The horses live in a different part of the island, Philippidis says, and they will be fully protected. "No horse or cows or goats have ever been damaged by a wind turbine," he says. But he is willing to reduce the number of turbines by using higher rated models if necessary, though the overall capacity has to remain roughly the same to make the link into the national grid viable.

Rooted in religion

Despite all the talk of protecting ponies and rare birds, some observers believe the real, but not stated, reason behind the opposition is rooted in religion. The monastery, one of the oldest in the Greek Orthodox church, owns 95% of the company set up to develop the project and is willing to invest up to EUR 70 million, according to Philippidis. There is a suggestion that some people simply do not like the idea of a monastery being so wealthy and commercially minded.

Not that the islanders will do too badly from the plant. Philippidis estimates the 350 families on Skyros will receive some EUR 3 million a year from taxes and rent for the land not owned by the monastery and up to 50 people will be employed on the site. For now, while everyone waits for RAE's decision, the ponies continue to graze undisturbed.

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