Under pressure to cut reliance on pollution-generating fossil fuels for energy production, Greece is stepping up plans to build wind farms on some of its picture-perfect islands that locals fear could scare off tourism.
Since January, a number of Aegean islands have been earmarked to host the massive, modern windmills – islands of the sort used in the Greek tourist board’s TV advertisement showing young couples dancing on white-washed rooftops against a red-and-gold sunset.
The image draws millions of visitors to Greek shores each year, but local authorities fear the idyll they are promoting will not have the same appeal with a forest of huge turbines – some up to 150 meters high (490 feet) – on the horizon.
“We are not against green energy, but we must also protect the unique landscape of our islands…and that means no turbines over 70 metres in height,” Dimitris Bailas, regional governor of the Cyclades island complex, told AFP.
Two of the islands considered for the initiative – Yaros and Andros – belong to the Cyclades, the central Aegean archipelago that includes Mykonos and Santorini and is among Greece’s most popular destinations.
Other projected sites include the islands of Lemnos and Lesbos in the northern Aegean.
In line with European Union guidelines and the terms of the Kyoto Protocol, Greece must find alternatives to its dependence on heavy-polluting lignite, or brown coal.
The wind farms are also expected to reduce a national energy deficit that currently forces Greece to import electricity from neighbouring countries, mainly Bulgaria and Macedonia, according to a recent report by the state Regulatory Authority for Energy (RAE).
At present, only six percent of Greece’s electricity comes from renewable resources – a figure the European Union wants boosted to 20 percent by 2010, according to the RAE. The bulk of its energy is produced by burning brown coal, which emits copious amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and a smaller share comes from hydroelectric power.
Greece, with its abundant coastlines, is an obvious candidate for wind power – a sector in the midst of a major boom as countries try to reduce their dependence on increasingly expensive fossil fuels and cut down on greenhouse gas emissions to head off global warming.
The European Union is currently the main market for wind power, where Germany and Spain are leaders in using such energy though demand in both Asia and North America is expanding, according to Brussels-based Global Wind Energy Council.
Greece’s state-run Public Power Corporation has already installed 15 wind farms of various sizes. Greece’s Regulatory Authority for Energy says they pose no risk to the environment, and that the procedure to obtain authorisation for wind farms are among the strictest in Europe.
“It takes more environmental studies than for a nuclear plant,” agreed Dimitris Rahiotis, general manager of Vector, a Greek company specialising in renewable energy infrastructure that helped design wind farms on the islands of Crete, Cephalonia and Lesbos.
“In Germany or Spain, it takes a tenth of the time required here,” he said.
But elected officials on some of the islands targeted for the projects are far from convinced.
“These facilities are disproportionate to the islands’ energy needs, and the majority of turbines installed in the past no longer function anyway,” charged Antonia Antonakis, head of the municipal council of Serifos island.
Local authorities fear that since wind turbines are usually situated on isolated hills and mountain tops, new roads will have to be built through previously unspoilt countryside, Antonakis said.
Though the project on Serifos would involve building 87 turbines, 150-feet high each, this would provide less than a tenth of the country’s renewable energy. The Greek industrial group Mytilineos has put in a bid for the project, which is still under consideration by the government.
A bit farther north, the municipal council on the remote island of Skyros has rejected plans for a much larger, 333-megawatt wind farm, which was set to produce one-sixth of the renewable energy target. Their opposition has set them at odds with Greece’s largest landowner, the Orthodox Church, as the monastery of Megisti Lavra which dates back to 10th century owns the planned site.
The locals fear a threat to biodiversity, including the Skyros horse, a diminutive breed similar to the Shetland pony and native to the island. Skyros is also a passage point for migrating birds and a breeding ground for the Eleonora falcon, a species found in Greece though rare elsewhere in Europe.
Tourism in Greece accounts for around 16 percent of the country’s gross domestic product and is the country’s second largest earner behind shipping.
by Staff Writers
Athens (AFP) Aug 27, 2007
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