Wind Power in Eastern Europe

Article excerpt

WIND Power is generating a torrent of investor interest in Eastern Europe. It may offer a viable economic solution to a notoriously energy deficient region desperately seeking to reduce fossil fuel use and Greenhouse gas emissions. Hungary and its neighbours are taking advantage of a soft energy technology, which is expanding rapidly around the world.

'This country alone may well have as many as 400 wind power plants operating by the year 2006', says Balazs Stelczer, managing director of the First Hungarian Wind Power Generator Association (EMSZET). The reason: the country must invest in a hurry to double its renewable energy generation from the present 3 per cent to 6 per cent of the total within a decade--a commitment accepted as a condition of entering the European Union (EU) next year. Wind power is particularly suitable to improve the national energy consumption mix.

Hungary's hurry is shared by the entire region. Last year's devastating floods in Central Europe--which experts largely blame on climate change due to global warming--cost more than $3.2bn in insured losses alone. (See Contemporary Review, December 2002.) That was the most expensive single loss of the year due to a 'natural' catastrophe. Specialists fear that far worse is to come unless this notoriously flood-prone region reforms its environmentally destructive collective energy economy.

EMSZET has just set up two experimental public power supply wind power generators, each with a capacity of 600kW, in the Kisalfold region of Hungary. Several announcements heralding a spectacular and dramatic expansion of the wind power industry in this region are currently being prepared.

Gyorgy Hatvany, deputy secretary of state at the Ministry of Commerce in Budapest, describes a 'feverishly intensive review' of the national energy economy currently being conducted by Hungary's centre-left coalition government. This former Soviet satellite country struggling to re-orientate its national economy towards the West is still heavily dependent on Russian natural gas imports. Lacking significant indigenous energy resources (apart from the plentiful, sulphur-rich lignite deposits that used to fuel the polluting, obsolete power stations of the bygone Soviet era), Hungary must harvest the potentially lucrative winds sweeping across its great planes.

Hatvany says that, by 2010, Hungary will be able to cut its Greenhouse gas emissions to the level set by the Kyoto Accords on Climate Control. Emissions generated by energy production here declined from 101,000 tonnes in 1987 to 82,000 tonnes in 1998. The cuts achieved so far have been larger than what was promised, but energy production could grow by 2010. The national environment programme devotes a separate action plan to Greenhouse gas emissions. A committee comprising experts from various ministries will be set up soon to oversee an accelerating rate of such environmental economies.

Help is also on the way. Spencer Abraham, the American Energy Secretary, has recently passed through Budapest to announce a $138,000 grant to Greenergy Kft. of Hungary towards a feasibility study for the construction of several projected wind parks. They may have a combined capacity of 80-100MW, and cost perhaps $100m. The study will assemble the first green energy map of the country including environment assessments, geological studies, economic analyses and wind flow modelling. The American Trade Development Agency has so far invested more than $13m here to promote renewable energy generation, making Hungary one of the biggest recipients of such funds.

Eastern Europe is making the most of a dramatic global development. Wind energy generating capacity reached nearly 32,000MW world-wide by the start of this year, an increase of 27 per cent on 2001. Spurred by falling costs, concern about climate change and new governmental policies, wind remains the fastest growing energy source in the world. …