Solar energy falls victim to the government’s backtracking on renewable energy sources

As the world seeks new ways to deal with the greenhouse effect by reducing emissions of gas and finding alternative ways to produce energy, Greece has once more shown itself to be dragging its heels. Pioneering proposals presented by the Development Ministry last April on renewable energy sources, which indicated the government’s apparent willingness to take a step forward on the issue, have come to a sorry end. The new bill on renewable energy sources, released last week for public debate,provides no incentive to promote these in an energetic manner, as the government had promised during the election campaign. Moreover, it even expects private individuals to inform the ministry if they want to put up even one photovoltaic panel in their own homes. And this is despite the Development Ministry’s boasts about the innovations in the original bill, despite the minister’s triumphant announcement a few months ago that very soon Parliament House, the Maximos Mansion (the prime minister’s office) and the Presidential Palace would be using solar energy from photovoltaic panels. It appears that these proclamations were solely for publicity purposes since in reality, the old system is still in use. The new bill is a conservative and watered-down version of the original bill drafted by the ministry only a few months ago; meanwhile the pre-existing, positive provisions are now missing. Given that Greece has done nothing substantial about climatic change and will soon be asked to begin paying for its pollutants, the original bill was the only serious, country-wide legal tool offering real solutions. Unfortunately, almost none of them remains in the final draft. The biggest victim has been solar energy. In contrast to the original, the final version does not provide for sales prices for solar kilowatt hours, while licensing procedures that were simplified in the original bill now appear to be as bureaucratic as ever. As a result, investments are delayed by at least six months. For example, in the original bill, photovoltaic systems of up to 500 kilowatts to be included in the country’s mainland network did not require installation or production permits, since according to the law these were «low impact» units. The ministry’s new proposal reduces this ceiling to 50 kilowatts. As a result, the majority of investors will be required to embark on a bureaucratic race of at least six months. This actually benefits no one since, in any case, the systems have to be declared to the Greek Electrical Energy Distribution Network Management (DESMHE) and to the Public Power Corporation in order to be eligible for subsidies for solar kilowatt hours. However, all that pales before article 4, paragraph 4 of the draft, which states that even to install a single photovoltaic panel in one’s home, one is required to send a letter to the Energy Authority (RAE) and the Development Ministry in order for it to be legal, according to Stelios Psomas, adviser to the Association of Photovoltaic Firms and former director of the Greek branch of Greenpeace. The Development Ministry’s backing down on this issue will have negative repercussions. After the original bill had been announced, a substantial number of foreign investors had indicated an interest. Within four months, applications had been received for investment in a total 27 megawatts of solar energy. Now the investors will back off in the face of the ministry’s dithering stance, which suggests a lack of credibility. Why shouldn’t they prefer Spain or Italy, where the institutional framework is much clearer? Investors are also shocked by the fact that the bill contains no reference to pricing of solar kilowatt hours, although it does for other technologies. The ministry’s justification is that it wants to discuss further the eventual strength of the photovoltaic cells. However, the basis of discussion of this issue is not known. In the original plan, the ministry suggested prices for solar kilowatt hours that had been acceptable to the market both in Greece and abroad, since they were at the same level as in other countries such as Germany, Spain and Italy. It was on the basis of those original proposals, after all, that hundreds of minor investors as well as major players in the global solar energy sector had indicated an interest. The Association of Photovoltaic Firms has expressed its deep disappointment and is intending to submit its detailed and documented proposals to the Development Ministry once more. Greenpeace At the same time, environmental group Greenpeace is protesting strongly since it had thrown its weight behind the ministry’s original proposals last April. «The new bill has been extremely watered down regarding renewable energy sources and is hostile to solar energy,» said Dimitris Ibrahim, head of the Greek Greenpeace office’s campaign on climatic change and energy. «Instead of facilitating renewable sources, (the bill) makes it more difficult and gives Big Brother powers to the RAE, an agency that has been systematically promoting natural gas and other mineral fuels at the expense of clean energy sources.» Yet another bill is also in the offing that has raised similar concerns. Its final draft does away with the commitments Greece had made to the European Union to increase the production of energy from renewable sources by 20.1 percent by 2010 and by 29 percent by 2020. It appears that the system is so dependent on the current status that not even the European Union’s demands are enough to mobilize the state.

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