A depressing year for Austria

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Austria's wind sector suffered a depressing year, with just ten turbines (19.5 MW) installed in 2007 and 2.5 MW decommissioned, bringing the total to 612 operational turbines with a combined capacity of 982 MW. The poor showing was in marked contrast to 2006 when 145.6 MW started up, although all in the first half of the year.

The wind market malaise struck Austria in mid-2006 just as the new eco-electricity law (Ökostromgesetz) was introduced. Under the law, payment for wind produced electricity is so poor that just 12% of the total annual budget of EUR 17 million for all renewables was allocated.

The new wind installations in 2007 were only possible because they were added to existing stations with infrastructure already in place and where wind conditions are good, says Stefan Hantsch of the Interessengemeinschaft Windenergie (IGW), a lobby group. The purchase price for wind power in 2007 was EUR 0.0765/kWh, payable for ten years, a slight improvement on the EUR 0.0755/kWh in 2006, he says. The proposed ten year rate for projects coming online in 2008, however, drops to EUR 0.0745/kWh.

The law states that the rate set by government must decrease each year, but does not specify by how much, keeping developers guessing. Late last year, the economy ministry presented a draft reform of the support law "but this is of no use as an answer to the current situation," says IGW. The draft proposes maintaining the annual decrease in the purchase prices for plant coming online, but again without stipulating by how much it will drop. "The decisive changes that would restore the security of planning and investment of the old eco-electricity law of 2002 are missing," says Hantsch.

Discussions about a revision of the law are in full swing, with added pressure on the government after the EU Commission's climate and energy package, presented in January, set a binding target for Austria's share of renewable energies in final energy use at 34% by 2020, up from 23.3% in 2005, mainly from hydro.

Hantsch believes the Austrian government is now fully aware that the framework for renewables must be improved, but he is sceptical that a revision will take effect before the end of the year. The European football championship being held in Austria and Switzerland will probably bring politics to a standstill in May and June, he fears. But Austrian wind developers are far from being bored, he points out. "There is plenty going on in eastern European countries like Rumania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Hungary," to keep them busy.

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