Commercial association the Czech Society for Wind Energy (ČSVE) has objected to a proposed amendment to the energy law that calls for an increase in the distance between wind power plants and electric power lines. The association claims it will put a halt to half the wind power projects currently under development in the Czech Republic.
The ČSVE, an association of companies active in the wind power sector, issued a press release protesting the amendment Dec. 6 while the amendment was still at the interministerial consultation phase and controversial passages could be altered or left out. Their press release objects particularly to a section of the amendment that calls for wind power plants to be located at a distance of at least three times the diameter of a rotor from electric power cables. František Šustr, head of the ČSVE, claims the amendment has no technical basis and that valid safety restrictions already exist for wind turbines. These stipulate that turbines must be located at least 20 meters from electric power lines.
The Ministry of Industry and Trade (MPO), however, disagreed. “The distance has to be sufficient and safe. It is not a Czech fabrication; the same rule is applied in neighboring Germany, which has a greater wind power tradition [than the Czech Republic]. There the reason [for applying the rule] was safety too,” said Tomáš Bartovský, spokesman for the MPO.
Czech electricity grid operator ČEPS has also had an evaluation made that supports the MPO’s position. The study reported that the safe distance of wind power plants from electric power lines is three to five times the diameter of a rotor.
Halting the projects?
The ČSVE said the amendment could jeopardize nearly half the current wind power projects planned for the Czech Republic. Šustr said it will become increasingly difficult to find appropriate locations for wind turbines as this is not the only legal or geographical restriction on building wind power plants in the Czech Republic.
“We consider Šustr’s estimate to be exaggerated,” Bartovský said in response to the ČSVE’s claims, adding that the amendment would cancel perhaps a small percentage of projects, mainly in areas where there is a high density of power lines such as around the nuclear power plant of Dukovany, South Moravia, but nothing near 50 percent.
But industry insiders said Šustr is right to claim that wind energy projects already face a myriad of natural and official restrictions. “Investors [first] have to consider whether it is possible to get planning permission,” said Miroslav Klose, CEO of wind turbine manufacturer Wikov Wind. Planning permission involves numerous factors. The plant has to meet required noise limits, has to be a reasonable distance from the nearest population center, must not be built in a protected landscape area, or in a corridor where migrating birds fly, among other restrictions.
“The other thing is that investors have to present a good case on the issue of whether the plant will or will not affect the surrounding landscape and scenery,” Klose said, adding that whether or not the plant will look good in its location is a very subjective opinion and hard to back up with actual evidence.
Another geographical factor that has to be considered is the strength of wind in the area. “Mountain locations are best, but these are mainly in protected landscape areas. The ČSVE would not support projects in those areas. From the unprotected areas, the most appropriate [for building a wind-power plant] are the mountain ranges of Krušné hory [West Bohemia] and in South and North Moravia,” Šustr said in an interview for public service broadcaster Česká televize.
Finally, there are important economic and technical considerations. An investor has to find out who owns the piece of land, where the plant should be constructed, and whether there is enough capacity in existing power lines to transfer the electricity produced, Klose explained. “There can be problems when the land is owned by more than one person or organization,” he added.
Missing EU targets
The ČSVE also states in its press release that if the amendment is passed it will damage the chances of the Czech Republic meeting targets agreed on with the European Union to generate at least 8 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2010. “The rate of production from renewable energy sources was 4.9 percent [in 2006],“ Bartovský said, adding that it generally moves around the 4 percent figure. According to the MPO, wind power has a 1.4 percent share of the total energy production from renewable resources, however it is the fastest growing, registering a 130 percent rise since 2005. Hydroelectric plants have the highest share among renewables, at 72.49 percent, with biomass next at 20.77 percent. Šustr claims that the new amendment will not help the Czech Republic achieve its 8 percent target. The MPO has said that meeting the criterion by 2010 is, in any case, unrealistic.
One of the biggest criticisms facing wind power projects is that they are not economical. Although there are no subsidies for wind power projects from the Czech government at present, Šustr said that if they were introduced they would only deform the market. He would only agree to subsidize those projects that might be located in areas with lower wind strength, where the economic return on the investment is naturally lower.
The profitability of a wind turbine quickly becomes clear. “Currently the operational life of a wind power plant is about 20 years,” Klose said, adding that the average return on the investment is between 12 and 15 years. He said banks would be unlikely to give loans to projects with a return time longer than 15 years. The other issue is the guaranteed selling price of the electricity produced by a wind plant. The minimum price is guaranteed for 15 years for a newly constructed plant, but it is also slowly coming down. Whereas for the plants built by the end of year 2003 it was Kč 3,020 (€ 115) per megawatt hour (MWh), after Jan. 1, 2007, the price will be only Kč 2,460 per MWh. This prolongs the economic return on the investment.
Generally the price for construction of a single wind turbine is between Kč 65 million and Kč 80 million. “This price is for a turnkey project, from construction of a turbine to its connection to an electricity network,” Klose said, adding that most of the wind turbine producers delivering to the Czech Republic would fit into this price range.
By Marcel Bodnár
17 December 2007
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