Berlin pours cold water on Helios

The sun is setting on the ambitions Greece has been harboring about the creation of a major solar energy project that would be partially funded and tapped by Germany, as a top Berlin official said in Athens yesterday that it is not a priority for his government and that Greek charges for the power produced are too high.

Even though Prime Minister Lucas Papademos said yesterday that the 20-billion-euro plan for the so-called Helios solar project and other renewable energy plants constitute a priority for Athens, Germany?s Deputy Energy Minister Juergen Becker poured cold water on the idea, saying that his country is not interested in it as things stand right now.

Speaking at a conference organized by the Greek Environment and Energy Ministry, Becker said that Greece will have to drastically cut its guaranteed price paid to producers of solar energy prices that remain far higher than those in Germany even after their recent reduction. ?If we bought at Greek prices then the cost for German consumers would soar,? Becker said.

The guaranteed price for installations below 100 kilowatts-peak and for non-interconnected islands is 328.60 euros per megawatt hour, while for installations of more than 100 KWp the price is 292.08 euros/MWh. For photovoltaic systems on roofs, the price is 495 euros/MWh. Germany has also slashed its rates, which range from 183.30 to 244 euros/MWh.

Becker said Germany must first invest in its own solar energy production before proceeding to imports, which can only be a long-term prospect.

Papademos said in his speech at the same conference that the Helios project will render Greece a European model in energy exports: ?Energy should be produced where it costs less. Were the same investment to take place in Central Europe, where sunshine hours are fewer, it would cost 6 billion euros more. In a period of austerity we cannot afford such a luxury.?

European Commissioner for Energy Guenther Oettinger said that ?Helios has the potential to be groundbreaking,? but warned that the existing infrastructure is not sufficient for the development of the project. That would require the strengthening of the networks, the interconnection of the islands and new linkups with neighboring countries.