Tilting at windmills

THIS REGION may only dream of wind farms like the world's biggest at Horse Hollow in Texas, with its 421 turbines and 735 megawatt capacity, but Slovakia too will soon have to answer the challenge of wind power. There are several investors working on dozens of wind power projects here but they have yet to hear from the government whether wind will be a preferred energy source at all in Slovakia. Statements so far by government officials have given little cause for hope.

The wind park at CerováThe wind park at Cerová (Source: Jana Liptáková)

THIS REGION may only dream of wind farms like the world's biggest at Horse Hollow in Texas, with its 421 turbines and 735 megawatt capacity, but Slovakia too will soon have to answer the challenge of wind power. There are several investors working on dozens of wind power projects here but they have yet to hear from the government whether wind will be a preferred energy source at all in Slovakia. Statements so far by government officials have given little cause for hope.

The Economy Minister, Ľubomír Jahnátek, said on March 16 that wind power plants are not well-suited to Slovakia and that the state should support other forms of renewable energy, most importantly biomass.

"Of the renewable energy sources, biomass has the greatest potential, then geo-thermal energy, solar energy, and water energy; while wind power comes last," Jahnátek said, as quoted by SITA newswire.

The minister also said that locations suitable for wind power plants are either in protected areas or that the infrastructure needed to access plants would have to go through protected areas.

The minister also argued that the inconsistent output of wind power plants, versus the need to maintain a stable electricity supply, makes wind an inappropriate energy source for Slovakia.

In order to maintain the stability of its electricity transmission system, Slovakia currently needs a minimum of 20 percent spare generating capacity; if more wind power plants are built, the country would need greater back-up capacity to secure the system, he said.

The Association for Wind Power, which represents companies investing in the sector, has ten members in Slovakia. Each of these investors has planned ten or more wind farms, said Matej Hlôška, project manager with Alfa Wind SK, a wind park developer. The opportunities for wind power generation have increasingly attracted the attention of foreign investors from the Iberian peninsula, Germany, Denmark, France and other countries, he said.

In order to operate a wind farm, an investor must apply to be connected to Slovakia's electricity transmission network.

By January this year, the Slovak Electricity Transmission Network (SEPS) company had registered applications by investors to connect plants with a total capacity of 2,100 megawatts to the network. However, the authority has yet to issue any standards.

Igor Gallo, executive director of the communication department at SEPS, said that a study looking at the impact of wind power plants on the reliability and security of the electricity transmission system is due by 30 September, 2008.

Gallo told The Slovak Spectator that SEPS will decide on applications by the end of 2008 or in early 2009 based on its findings.

"The study will also show the necessary technological, economic and legislative measures which need to be taken in connection with plugging the wind power plants to the transmission system," Gallo said.

However, wind power developers say that developing the potential of wind could in future significantly contribute to Slovakia's energy self-sufficiency such that it need not be forced to import expensive electricity.

In addition, the total capacity of wind power plants in Europe increased by 18 percent in 2007, Daniel Szabo of the Association for Wind Power told the SITA newswire.

Advocates of wind power say it has a long way to go before the public and state officials recognise what they see as its benefits - such as cutting emissions and reducing the use of non-renewable natural resources. However, they also say that wind power has no ambition to replace fossil-fuel energy generation.

"Neither citizens, energy producers, politicians, nor the technology itself is ready for this move," Hlôška told The Slovak Spectator. "There are many more reasons why citizens should agree to a well-built wind power park than reasons for them to oppose it; it's only that citizens do not know about them."

The energy strategy of the state in Slovakia is traditionally based on monopoly production and distribution, he said.

At present the system is set up in a way that the energy produced at point A flows into the regional distribution system at point B, which distributes the energy back again to point A - with losses emerging during distribution, and with the inevitable burden of a surcharge exceeding 100 percent to cover distribution and regulation, Hlôška said.

"We would be glad to sell energy at purchase prices to partner municipalities, with which both parties would be more than satisfied," Hlôška said. "However, the legislation does not make this possible."

In the next five years it could be possible to create a potential 600 megawatts of generating capacity, which would provide 1.3 tera-watt hours of green electricity. By 2020, technological development could boost this potential to as much as 2,000 megawatts which would be 10 percent of the total volume of electricity produced in Slovakia, said Hlôška.

Given the rule that wind parks should not be developed in protected areas, the most advantageous locations for new ones are throughout lowland western and eastern Slovakia, Hlôška added.

Since it is a new phenomenon, people are concerned by the possible impact on their health and the environment, Hlôška said.

The pressure group Country Without Propellers, which has been protesting against the use of wind power, said on its website said that "the potential of the territory will be degraded by the visual contamination of environment".

According to the group, wind power plants cause noise, infra-sound and ultra-sound, and health problems and have a negative impact on wild birds and other fauna. They bring local inhabitants practically no profit, the group said, and they produce electricity only under suitable climatic conditions. Wind turbines also push down the price of the land and real estate in their neighbourhood.

But the environmental pressure group Greenpeace said that there is certainly some potential for the use of wind power in Slovakia.

Karel Polanecký of Greenpeace told The Slovak Spectator that if environmental protection rules are respected during the construction of wind farms, Greenpeace supports their use.

"The problems of noise and bird protection have been largely eliminated by technological development and the method used to select the location of turbines," said Polanecký. "Protection of the landscape is undoubtedly a limitation on the development of wind power. Investors must respect limitations imposed by environmental watchdogs."

Recently, media have reported on several plans for new wind farms.

The company Eolica Slovensko plans to build a €38-million wind power park in Slanské Vrchy mountains, in eastern Slovakia, comprising 27-29 turbines with an output of 25 megawatts. The firm plans to start construction in 2010. In the Nové Zámky district, in southern Slovakia, SWP plans to build between 15 and 17 wind turbines with 30-40 megawatts of capacity, at an estimated cost at Sk1.6 billion - Sk1.8 billion. A private foreign company has plans to build 33 wind power turbines in eastern Slovakia's Zemplín region, worth Sk120 million each, according to the SITA newswire.

Alfa Wind SK had, among others, planned to build a wind park near Dunajská Lužná, in close to Bratislava, with 18 turbines. However, protests by locals forced the company to re-evaluate the project.

Slovakia currently has only three wind parks whose nine small wind turbines have a total generating capacity of 5 megawatts.

One of them is Cerová wind park. Its four turbines have been turning for five years, generating a peak output of 2.6 megawatts.

Anna Jánošová of the Cerová local municipality told The Slovak Spectator that the wind park has in fact boosted tourism in the locality.

The turbines are 500 metres away from the closest house, Jánošová said, adding that the inhabitants do not hear any noise from the turbines and that the municipality has not yet detected any negative impact on birds or insects.

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