Europe: New government gives fresh hope - Draft law expected soon

There is an unusual buzz of optimism among members of Greece's wind industry following October's election of a socialist government, which has vowed to take its renewables obligations seriously.

Prime Minister George Papandreou says that he wants Greece to become "the Denmark of the south" as far as renewable energy is concerned. Although few concrete details have emerged so far, his government will adopt a so-called green-growth model, introduce measures to stimulate investment in renewables, boost clean energy production and simplify the long and complex licencing procedures, according to statements made during the election campaign. Vassilis Spiliotopoulos, general manager of Gamesa Energia in Greece, a division of Spanish turbine manufacturer Gamesa, expects a draft law to be issued within a few weeks.

New ministry

Already established is a dedicated Ministry of the Environment, Energy and Climate Change, headed by Tina Birbili. One of her first tasks will be to draw up a national action plan by the end of the year as required under the European climate directive. This must detail how Greece will meet its mandatory target for 20.1% of electricity to be generated from renewable sources by 2020, up from just over 3% today. This will require an estimated 10 GW of additional clean energy capacity to be installed over the next decade. Birbili has already appointed a committee to draw up the plan. "It is most important for the committee to devise innovative ways to promote renewables in Greece," says Achilles Plitharas of Greece's WWF (formerly the World Wide Fund for Nature).

Greece has favourable wind resources and an attractive market structure, with purchase prices guaranteed for 20 years at EUR91.74/MWh for projects on islands not connected to the grid and EUR80.14 elsewhere. Yet, to date, it has just over 1 GW of wind turbines in operation. Excessive red tape, incoherent regulations, pockets of strong local opposition and a lack of political will have plagued the industry for years. Over 1000 applications totalling 7 GW of renewable energy capacity are said to be held up in the permitting process, and most of them are for wind projects.

A main priority for Birbili is to release the logjam by simplifying the licencing procedures and amending the controversial 2008 permitting framework for renewables. This framework, among other things, introduced a minimum distance between turbines of at least 2.5 times the diameter of the blades and banned turbines from being installed on "high productivity agricultural land" (Windpower Monthly, March 2009). Birbili has yet to clarify her plans and how she will speed up the slow legislative process.

As a sign of the government's willingness to act quickly, Birbili could ensure the building of the long-promised undersea electricity interconnection cable to the island of Evia, off the eastern coast of central Greece. Once a few final issues are resolved, the interconnection could be completed by the end of 2011, says Gamesa Energia's Spiliotopoulos, allowing around 400 MW of wind and solar power to be built on the island.

However, there are no guarantees, warns WWF's Plitharas. There is strong opposition to the plan amongst Evia's population, who fear that wind power will harm tourism and decrease the value of their land.

"The government needs to work on getting the support of citizens, and on creating a democratic and non-bureaucratic system," says Plitharas. If people are going to accept more turbines, he says, then the environmental aspects, such as assessing the risks to the bird populations, must be transparent.

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