Confusion blocks windfarm construction

Windfarms are making little progress in Greece. Though investors have shown great interest and many permits have been issued, the farms cannot go into operation due to a lack of planning permission, power grid and energy production schedules. Third Community Support Framework funds of 387.1 million euros are to be made available for wind energy, according to the Development Ministry, and that land is to be expropriated by fast-track procedures so that high-tension pylons can be built to transmit energy from wind generators to the central power grid. Windfarms receive subsidies of 30 percent of their total cost. Renewable energy sources are not subject to taxes for using the transmission system or the energy loss coefficient. The Regulatory Authority for Energy (RAE) responded to investors who requested establishment of 18,000 MW capacity wind power (the existing level is only 210,000 MW), issuing permits for the establishment of farms with a capacity of 1,837 MW. The price per kilowatt hour was set at a level that suited investors, and investment boomed. Foreign companies became involved and local technicians expected to find work in renewable energy applications. But there was a stumbling block – the total lack of planning for windfarm sites. At a meeting on the siting of wind generators in February 2001, the then-deputy environment minister, Ilias Efthymiopoulos, told the press that «in view of the liberalization of the energy market, private investors must know the rules of the game. In other words, they must know what restrictions there are in terms of the environment or other land uses and make the right choices.» Since then, however, the problem has remained unsolved. «Since August 3, 2001,» says RAE chief Pantelis Kapros, «when we issued the first batch of permits, we have raised the question of planning permission, since this is decisive for renewable energy stations, which are sited on public land. But the State insists on favoring the system of individual permits. So even now anybody can find a site, measure the wind potential and eventually get permission. This system had a certain logic at the beginning, because the State didn’t know the best sites and gave permits to private concerns to research wind potential. Now everybody knows the good sites. The competition is fierce. It’s as if the country had struck oil in those areas. But investment can’t go ahead if the planning permission issue is not clarified.» The European Union directive is clear: By the end of 2010, Greece must produce 2,000 MW of energy from renewable sources; currently it produces around 470 MW. But this deadline can’t be met when there is no planning permission, and work on boosting the grid – at a cost of 102.6 million euros – will take five years. As engineer Apostolos Efthymiadis told Kathimerini: «Nobody is asking for this procedure to be simplified. Besides, the siting of windfarms and power transmission lines has to be examined seriously. We are asking for the formalization of the procedure. Now neither the prefectures nor the municipalities or even local residents of an area can resist the deluge of investors who want to invest everywhere and often manage to get permits issued. Windfarms are essential, because they produce much less pollution than power stations using fossil fuels (555,000 fewer metric tons of carbon dioxide for every 200 MW of wind-generated power), but they must be sited far from inhabited areas.» Local communities object to visual and noise pollution: «Public opinion is usually consulted when the permit is to be issued, time is short and everything has to be done quickly,» says Efthymiadis. Unfortunately, the problems are multiplying, as some areas get saturated with wind farms. Another problem is the lack of energy production planning. No one knows whether wind farms will alleviate the burden on the Greek energy system. Efthymiadis explains: «The Public Power Corporation (PPC) has not drafted a price list showing the cost of a kilowatt hour according to area, time of day and season. If such a price list had been made, then the use of renewable energy could be planned on a more rational basis for consumers and the system.» So far only the PPC has invested in areas where the system has proven needs. A company spokesman told Kathimerini: “The PPC insisted on getting a permit to produce 22 MW of energy on the islands, because the corporation believed the system needed assistance there and that energy would be produced more cheaply.»