In July 2002 the Austrian Parliament adopted a new legislation to comply with the RES-E directive, the Ökostromgesetz/Green Electricity Act (Official Journal BGBl I 2002/244). This act implements a feed-in system for RES and makes it mandatory to purchase "green” electricity. Compared to the former Electricity Act ElWOG (Official Journal BGBl I 2000/121) the feed-in system also applies to small hydroelectric power plants (up to 10 MW). Before the Green Electricity Act came into force there was a system of green certificates for small hydropower plants. But it did not work properly because it was much too complicated. It has been successful neither in Austria nor in any other European country.
The feed-in tariffs in Austria are determined by the Minister for Economic Affairs, the Minister for the Environment and the Minister for Consumerism in cooperation with representatives of the provincial governments. The tariffs are expected to take production costs into account and they are guaranteed for at least 10 years.
In addition to the purchase-obligation the Green Electricity Act sets a target for the share of RES-electricity: In the year 2008 the share of RES-electricity (without small hydro) in the public grid has to reach at least 4%. The part of electricity from small hydropower plants should be 9%. These figures reflect the 78,1% target laid down in the RES-E directive for Austria.
Guarantees of origin
The Green Electricity Act introduced a system of guarantees of origin. Grid operators are obliged to give electronic proof of origin to RES-producers. The Landeshauptmann, head of a province, is in charge of this system. Since October 2001 energy bills have had to disclose the production sources of each electricity unit listed. Furthermore the bill must give information on the composition of the energy mix. (What is the percentage of atomic energy, oil, coal, gas, biomass, wind, photovoltaic etc). The previous electricity Act ElWOG made it possible to conceal facts, for example by selling nuclear power to industrial consumers and hydro power to households. The energy companies now have to document calculations and information concerning their energy mix. This documentation has to be verified by a chartered accountant. The process of issuing guarantees of origin is supervised by the energy regulation office Energie Control GmbH.
Administrative procedures and grid access
In Austria, a fast-track planning procedure for producers of renewable electricity does not exist. The Provincial governments are (more or less) in charge of the procedure and many different permissions have to be obtained (electricity act, protection of landscape, regional development plan, security of aviation). Only projects with a size of more than 20 MW enjoy a centralised planning procedure at the provincial government level.
Regarding grid access, Austria has neither taken the necessary measures to ensure that grid system operators guarantee the transmission and distribution of RES-E nor do producers of alternative energy have priority access to the grid as stipulated in the EU directive. RES-E producers have to bear the costs of all technical adaptations such as grid connections and grid reinforcements. If the grid operator claims the grid is not strong enough, it is impossible to get a connection. There are no clear and transparent rules for connecting with the grid, which is a serious problem for wind power operators. Most grids are not strong enough for the capacity of the planned wind turbines. However, if a higher feed-in tariff would cover these additional costs is uncertain. It takes months to know whether a connection to the grid is possible and at what cost. Sometimes the grid operator promises to offer a grid-connection-concept (e.g. if there is a large number of projects in an area) but that takes up to a year. RES-E producers are allowed to issue a call for tender for the connection work.
So far no legal framework has been put in force setting up objective, transparent and nondiscriminatory criteria to share the costs of grid connection and reinforcement. Moreover grid system operators in Austria are not urged to set up and publish standard rules with regard to a model sharing these costs.
In respect of transmission and distribution of RES-E, Austria has not ensured that the charging of transmission and distribution fees does not discriminate against RES-E, in particular RES-E produced in regions with a low population density. No legal framework has been put into force to ensure that fees for transmission and distribution of RES electricity reflect the cost benefits resulting from the plant's connection to the grid. In this case Austria does not require grid system operators to work out proper regulations.
RES have a long tradition in Austria. Apart from small hydro and biomass-power plants, figures of installed solar heating capacity per capita show that Austria is second in the world. Many private investors are engaged in the RES-business. In the wind sector for example, the main investors are small companies consisting of local residents. This explains why local acceptance has been very high up to now. Other than these private small companies, Austria has two stock corporations in the Austrian Windenergy market. The WEB Windenergie AG for example develops wind projects in Austria as well as in Europe. It offers shares to anyone who is interested in the "wind business". Shares can be acquired with a minimum investment of 350 Euro. Some grid operators have recently founded subsidiary companies, which have become involved in the wind business. As players have become bigger, local acceptance is becoming an increasing problem, also because of opposition from hunters and bird protection organizations.
In May 2001, the opinion research institute ISMA published a poll on behalf of Greenpeace Austria concerning the nuclear energy policy of the Austrian government. One result indicates that 76% of the interviewed persons don't want support to RES-energy to be limited to 4% (target of the electricity act ELWOG, there were discussions whether this target should be the limitation of the purchase obligation for RES), 14% want that costs for customers are limited to a certain amount (about 7 Euros per year) and only 6% don't want to pay more to support RES.
The feed-in tariff for one kWh of wind energy is 7,8 Cents. This tariff is guaranteed for 13 years. But only turbines authorised before the 31st of December 2004 can enjoy these tariffs. The tariff for new projects has not been fixed till now.
The feed-in tariffs are supposed to take production costs into account. As a consequence there are no other types of support for grid connected RES. Only innovative projects (e.g. wind projects in the alps) can obtain small investment subsidies.
Wind: End of 2004: 606 MW (424 turbines).
Now, at the beginning of 2005, the Austrian wind industry is in a terrible state. Feed-in tariffs have only been guaranteed for turbines which have completed the authorisation process before the 31st of December 2004. It is not clear whether projects erected after 2004 and projects which have not yet received authorisation will receive any payment for their green electricity. The reason for this uncertainty is that the Austrian government wanted to amend the „Ökostromgesetz“ (Renewable Energy Act) by the end of 2004 but failed to reach the necessary 2/3 majority vote. Now there are two possibilities for a resolution of the problem:
1) The Minister of Economics (Mr. Bartenstein at the moment) enacts a follow-up feed-in-tariff-decree. This is favoured by all green electricity agents and the environmental NGO's.
2) The Government starts new negotiations with the opposition party to change the "Ökostromgesetz", which is the aim of Mr. Bartenstein and representatives of the industry.
Austria doesn't have a coastline, but Austria's landscape is dominated by the Alps which reach altitudes of 3.800 m. The Alps are not only a challenge for mountaineers, but also for the wind industry. Before 2002 turbines had only been constructed in the flat and only slightly hilly east of the country. In Oberzeiring, however, a pioneering project of twelve wind turbines has been realized at an altitude of 1,835 m (www.tauernwind.com).