The argument has erupted out of Austria's troubled transition to a more liberalised electricity market, which climaxed recently with "E" day on 19 February when the first stage of liberalisation required by an EU 1992 directive took effect. Despite opposition from the nationalised grid owner Verbund, Vienna Power used the new rules to purchase cheaper power from a coalition of utilities, including producers from the neighbouring German state of Bavaria.
For Greenpeace Austria, this was a slap in the face, since most Bavarian-produced electricity is nuclear. The group also saw an opportunity to challenge the Austrian government's approach to power liberalisation, which it claims does too little to promote "new" renewables such as photovoltaic solar, biomass and geothermal, but excluding large-scale hydro power, which generates most Austrian power.
Last week, therefore, the group "cancelled" its electricity supply contract with Vienna Power and agreed instead to pay the owner of a 500 KW capacity wind turbine some 20 kilometres north of Vienna for the 25,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) per year that its office consumes. Simultaneously, the group offered to pay Vienna Power transmission costs of AS 0.31 (euros 0.025) per kWh instead of the firm's normal tariff of euros 0.065/kWh.
The campaign is intended to highlight the growing use of nuclear-generated power in Austria due to electricity liberalisation, but is also a tactic designed to harness opportunities brought by freer power markets. "We're not against liberalisation. It's not a great danger to the environment; it's the way you do it that matters," Erwin Mayer of Greenpeace Austria told ENDS Daily.
The group is pushing for the introduction of new rules that would keep retail prices for "green" electricity at the same level as "normal" power, through the introduction of reduced transmission charges for green power. Nevertheless, there is little that Vienna Power can do to accede to the demand, since Austrian transmission charges are tightly regulated and have to be calculated according to a complex scheme laid down under law. According to the firm, unless Greenpeace pays for its power, it will eventually have little option but to cut off the supply.
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