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“If Europe wants to be No 1 in renewables it needs to get its act together”

Credit: London Array Ltd

So says Giles Dickson of trade body WindEurope, who explains what the sector has to do to remain cost-competitive. Kelvin Ross reports

Europeà‚ risks losing its leadership in windà‚ energy without a clear policy vision for renewablesà‚ towards 2030.

That’s the view of WindEurope (formerly the European Wind Energy Association), which says alarm bells should be ringing across Europe after China overtook the EU for total installed wind energy capacity in 2015.

China installed almost three times as much windpower than the EU and now has 145 GW of total capacity to the EU’s 142 GW.

China overtaking the EU in wind energy is watershed moment,” says Giles Dickson, chief executive of WindEurope.

Average turbine height is 140-160 metres

Credit: Dong Energy

“It sends a powerful message to policymakers: if Europe really wants to be number one in renewables it needs to get its act together. We need a clear EU vision for renewables beyond 2020. And great ambition and clarity from individual Member States.”

Dickson says China’s ambition on wind “now far exceeds Europe’s. Other emerging economies have also made big long-term commitments. But today only six out of 28 EU Member States have clear commitments and policies for renewables beyond 2020. This has major industrial policyà‚ mplications.

“Today Europe’s wind industry has a 40 per cent share of the global wind market and the best technology. But to stay cost-competitive we need a strong domestic market. Otherwise it’ll be China and others that capture the rapidly growing global market -and eventually outperform us in Europe.”

If this happens, Dickson says Europe would be hurt economically. “The wind industry supports over a quarter of a million jobs in Europe today, generates €67 billion ($77 billion) annual turnover and is the lion’s share of Europe’s €35 billion renewables exports. We can’t take this for granted.”

In October 2014, the European Council set a target for the EU to meet at least 27 per cent of its energy needs from renewable energy by 2030. Last year, the European Commission launched a consultation on the revision of the Renewable Energy Directive which will define how Europe will meet its collectively binding 2030 target. The Commission is expected to adopt a proposal at the end of 2016.

Meanwhile, the European wind industry is fighting against several seemingly anti-wind policies in Europe, and a key battleground at the moment is Poland.

The Polish wind market was one of the strongest performing in Europe last year – second only to Germany – installing a total of 1.3 GW in new capacity as developers pushed forward with new projects. To date, the wind industry in Poland supports over 8000 jobs and generates 600 million zloty ($155 million) in revenue each year.

However according to Dickson the country is facing “growing uncertainty on the regulatory front”.

Burbo Bank windfarm off the northwest coast of the UK

Credit: Dong Energy

There are proposals from the Polish Law & Justice ruling party to restrict the siting of new wind turbines and impose stringent permitting procedures in a new draft law. The draft legislation suggests that the minimum distance between households, buildings or nature reserves should be at least 10 times the total height of a wind turbine.

The average height of a wind turbine – from base to blade tip – is between 140 and 160 metres. This would mean that most modern wind turbines would need to be located at least 1.5 km away from any residential zone or protected natural area.

Dickson says: “This is a clear statement of intent from the governing party in Poland. The draft law proposed is deeply troubling. It will tie new projects up in red tape and make life hard for existing wind turbines that do not meet the legal demands.”

Other measures in the draft law include what WindEurope calls “a long and drawn-out permitting process”. If granted, new permits would last only two years before requiring renewal. Any planned repairs or maintenance would also require consent.

In addition, the developer would be liable to pay service fees to the technical authorities, according to the draft law. Non-compliance with any of these processes could result in a hefty fine or even imprisonment of up to two years.

Dickson says: “The law has set out a lengthy and expensive permitting procedure that would hinder the development of projects in Poland and effectively deem new projects unviable. Imposing these rules will damage investor confidence and put the brakes on future deployment in a country with huge potential.”

Klaus Steen Mortensen, president of Vestas Northern Europe, says he is concerned with the Polish proposals on wind investments “but we are ready to take the dialogue. Let’s look at what they have done in other countries. In Denmark, for example, the rule is about four times tip height and the population density is even a bit higher in Denmark than in Poland.”

And Cliff Harris, general manager at GE Renewable Energy EMEA, says that if Poland wants to maintain its windpower momentum “the investors in the energy sector need policy certainty and long-term goals and a stable regulatory framework to allow investments. Properly designed, Polish energy policy will resolve the energy trilemma by driving security of supplies, emissions reduction and eliminating energy poverty. We need those kinds of signals.”