Wind parks face red tape

It’s zero hour for companies investing in wind parks. The sector which has attracted the interest of some of the biggest companies in Europe is reeling under the weight of bureaucracy and a lack of coordination between the different ministries. German, Japanese, Spanish and US companies have expressed disappointment in the bureaucratic procedures and ministries’ contradictory policies. They are but a step away from pulling out of their investments. Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos recently publicly admitted there was a problem while the subject appeared to be troubling Prime Minister Costas Simitis, who met with the development, finance and agriculture ministers last week and told them to coordinate and simplify the institutional framework regarding permits for these projects. «The heart of the problem is the large number of approval procedures, which in some cases surpass logic,» Tsochadzopoulos said. The German ambassador reportedly told the minister that a number of German investors are withdrawing their investments after being told they need 39 approvals for a permit to set up operations. Greek subsidiaries formed by large conglomerates with the objective of setting up wind parks and which have been seeking to secure the necessary approvals and permits in the last two or three years are now facing pressure from the parent companies to freeze their investments and to withdraw from Greece. Umweltkontor is the biggest wind park company in Germany and is active in six European countries. In 1999, it set up a subsidiary in Greece and submitted applications for the construction of two wind parks with a total output of 18 MW and 24 MW. Theodoros Papadopoulos, managing director, told Kathimerini of the enormous problems faced by the company. «We have been in Greece for four years and we have spent a lot of money. Unfortunately, there is a negative image of Greece, which creates problems. It is very difficult to explain the time delays to German shareholders; for example, why one department cannot respond to a request in a week or why they do not observe the deadlines set out under Greek law,» he said. Papadopoulos said though bureaucracy exists in all countries, in Greece it surpasses the bounds of the imagination. It takes three to four years to secure all the necessary permits, and only if a company has not filed an appeal with the Council of State, in which case it can take even longer. Papadopoulos said he hopes the situation will improve as the wind park industry is a market with high profit margins. Gamesa is another company which has been caught in bureaucracy’s toils. In Greece since early 2000, Gamesa plans to construct and operate a wind park with a power of 202.25 MW. It has already received approval to operate a plant with 72.25 MW. However, it is still waiting for the green light for the two wind parks that were incorporated into the first stage of the Third Community Support Framework (CSFIII), on which it is dependent for the funding. Because of the delay in securing the permits, the company missed the first deadline for signing the contract to obtain funding and is hoping for a favorable outcome during the six-month extension. Theodoros Vissarionas, general manager of Gamesa Hellas, said the company submitted applications to the Public Works and Agriculture ministries in 2000 and is still waiting for a response. He said there are no objective criteria and thus companies have to make subjective evaluations while the different state departments have contradictory policies. Gamesa, which has outfits in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Brazil, the USA and Australia, is pressuring the Greek subsidiary to quit operations. Greek investors have confirmed the problems, saying that in addition to bureaucracy, there are various illogical requirements. One is the payment of 1,760 euros to state radio and television, ERT, for each visit made by their technicians to check whether the generators create problems for television transmission. Faced with the withdrawal of foreign investments and the danger of losing community funds, Simitis has called on the ministries to cooperate via their secretariats and to review the licensing framework. Sources said Tsochadzopoulos has put the Regulatory Energy Authority in charge of recommendations. A ministerial decree is expected to be issued soon which will reduce the time each department takes to respond to applications while a set of objective criteria for evaluation will be introduced. Investors are aware of these changes and are hoping for an improved state of affairs. Of the 38 wind park projects incorporated into the first stage of CSFIII, only two have secured permits and obtained funding. The second stage is currently in progress.