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Quiet revolution in Greek alternative energy  

Applications for wind farms to generate 34,000 megawatts + of electricity is being consideration by Greek energy authorities. Is it pie in the sky?

Applications for wind farms that would generate more than 34,000 megawatts of electricity – almost three times the country’s current generating capacity from all forms of energy – are being considered by the Regulatory Authority for Energy (RAE).

At a time when the European Union is looking to strengthen its alternative energy policies and slash greenhouse gas emissions, Greece’s energy regulators are apparently pinning their hopes on wind power to help meet ambitious energy targets.

Already integrated into national law are the EU requirements to generate more than 20 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2010, a figure that is supposed to rise to 29 percent in 2020.

And the target will become even more ambitious if recently announced EU Commission proposals are adopted. Specifically, by 2020 a fifth of all consumed energy (including transport and heating) will – if the bloc agrees – need to be attributed to renewables, including 10 percent of all transport being run by biofuels.

Perhaps the greatest impact on the country would be visual. Based on 3MW generators, those 34,000MW of wind power equate to some 11,000 turbines – and this at a time when proposed wind farms of around 300MW are being challenged on aesthetic and environmental grounds.

Theodoros Panagos, the vice-president of RAE, which evaluates all the country’s energy proposals and reports to the development ministry, acknowledges that only a third of those proposed farms (which currently exist as applications for production licences) may result in the granting of operating licences.

And even then, each application is subject to environmental, town-planning and other considerations before the process moves on to the signing of a purchasing contract with the country’s transmission operator (DESMIE).

That said, with DESMIE’s current generating capacity (principally derived from lignite, other coal and natural gas) at 12,500MW, the input of wind power and other renewable energy sources will, it is hoped, revolutionise the country’s energy scene.

Currently, wind power generates only 734MW of energy nationwide (see table). Along with hydroelectric plants and small contributions from photovoltaic (solar) energy and biofuels, renewables account for approximately 12 percent of the nation’s electricity output. And of that approximately two-thirds comes from large hydro-plants in the north of the country that can only function when water levels are right.

Guarded optimism

There are 272 applications for solar power plants in the Peloponnese – more than for any other region in Greece – lodged with the Regulatory Authority for Energy

The fate of the many wind power – and to a lesser, but by no means insignificant, extent solar – applications is, therefore, crucial to Greece’s chances of meeting its EU obligations.

“The current position is good,” Panagos told the Athens News. “Not as good as we would like but good nonetheless. “We may have a slight delay, but I believe we will meet the goals we have already incorporated into national law, in other words we shall have installed around 3,000MW of generating capacity from renewables by 2012. Sufficient licences will be issued. It will then be up to those involved to gain the necessary environmental approvals and ultimately take the works forward and link into the system.”

That, of course, makes a notoriously complicated procedure sound simplistic, but renewable energy policies in Greece have moved on considerably from the days – less than six years ago – when a dizzying 36 different permits were required before a wind farm could see the light of day. The current number of permits required is now around nine.

Furthermore, an environment ministry land-use plan concentrating on renewable energy is at the public consultation stage. Once the plan is passed as a ministerial decision (something for which there is no given time scale) it will be far easier for environmental assessments to be made. Applicants will then be less likely to propose projects that would provoke local opposition.

However, according to National Centre for Renewable Energy (CRES) president Yannis Agapitidis, within the land use plan are restrictions limiting the size of island wind farms to four percent of the area of that island.

That would appear to make existing applications for farms on Skyros and Serifos, amounting to 330MW and 260MW, respectively, unviable. On Skyros, the proposed 110 turbines would take up more than one-third of the island. It also calls into question the long-held view that the Aegean islands are where wind farm efforts should be concentrated.

“We are a country that needs energy and does not have it in abundance,” said Panagos. “Added to that, we all want energy to be clean. I accept that a large number of turbines in one place is an eyesore. But we also have to decide how we are going to meet our needs.”

In any event, the vast majority of wind farm applications are for plants on the mainland. Applications for eastern Macedonia and Thrace alone amount to 4,700MW, while across the Peloponnese more than 7,000MW’s worth of turbines are under consideration. Crete and the south Aegean are represented by only 2,775MW.

The obvious solution could, naturally, be to build such plants offshore, as engineering firms Terna and Rokas are proposing in three locations – two in the northeast Aegean, off the coast of Thrace, and one near Marathon.

Thirst for power

Wind is, of course, only part of the picture. In a country of abundant sunshine, solar power should already contribute more than it does. The RAE is currently running a photovoltaic programme that will contribute 600MW, including 100MW on Crete. Such has been the interest that the programme is six times oversubscribed.

“We have applications worth around 3,200MW for photovoltaics,” said Panagos. “We will soon have assessed around half the process and reached 80 percent by the end of the year. Once installation licences have been approved, environmental services are then consulted, followed by the town-planning department. The last stage is to sign a contract with the transmission operator [DESMIE] on the mainland, or the distribution operator [PPC] on an island. After that, it is up to the applicant to build the substation.”

The programme, said Panagos, should not be confused with the much-delayed processing of household applications for photovoltaic systems that, he said, were being considered directly by the PPC and would supply only 20MW of electricity to the grid.

Completing the renewables picture are biofuels (currently embryonic) and geothermal energy, for which the PPC has shown an interest on the volcanic islands of Milos and Nysiros.

Whether enough of these plans come to fruition for the country to meet its EU obligations is a moot point. In a recent interview with this newspaper, Agapitidis, the CRES president, said that he believed that by 2010 around 17 percent of the country’s electricity would come from renewables. Others put that figure considerably lower.

Against the country’s chances is the fact that its energy production from other, non-clean sources is on the rise. Indeed, by 2011 new natural gas- and coal-fired power plants will pour a further 2,860MW of electricity into the system, thus watering down the contribution of renewables and, potentially, raising the level of greenhouse gas emissions at a time when they should be coming down.

By Thrasy Petropoulos

Spero News

7 February 2008

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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