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Greece’s Wind Power Push on Islands Rattles Wary Environmentalists

ATHENS – Trying to further wean off a 19th-Century source for energy – coal – Greece is moving more toward solar, but it’s wind turbines on islands that have some environmentalists anxious over the impact.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’s New Democracy government said it would accelerate clean energy technologies to cover 80% of the country’s total energy production by 2030 from 30%, said Euronews.

But that’s raised concerns, especially on islands where there’s abundant sources of wind. The government plans to build 1,150 turbines over the next 20 years to generate 12 Gigawatts (GW) of wind-powered electricity, instead of using coal.

One patch of rocks in the Mediterranean, Ágios Geórgios, has 23 wind turbines which generate enough electricity to power more than 40,000 households on the mainland by itself.

Greece’s installed wind power capacity is expected to reach 6,500 Megawatts (MW) within the next three years. Greece’s central region accommodates more than half of national installations or 2,293 MW, partially because of 153 wind power stations connected to the country’s energy grid in 2023.

Costas Ilias, an Operations Manager for Terna Energy, a company involved in the building, told the news site that, “Our vision is to make offshore a reality and try to secure the energy of Greece without any threats from abroad and, of course, to reduce CO2 emissions. Nearby on the coast, we have high wind, and we have to take advantage of this because it is like having gold.”

The push has come late to take advantage of plentiful wind, as it did in lagging with more solar power in a country where the sun seems to shine almost every day, and Greece is behind in renewable power goals.

After a solar boom between 2011-2013, when more than 2,000 MW of photovoltaic capacity were installed, only a miniscule 17 MW of new PV capacity were built between 2014–2018. Greece failed to meet a 2020 target of 40% renewables to generate electricity.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which rocked energy markets and saw prices soar so much the government subsidized up to 90% of the cost to households, also drove Greece to reopen coal plants instead of moving faster toward shutting them.

BLOWIN’ IN THE WIND

After years of recession, the European ‘Wind Power Action Plan’ is speeding up the permitting process and enticing developers. The European Investment Bank also offers credit guarantees, and there are lots of EU grants available, the site noted.

But the worries among environmentalists and many islanders are that Wind farms can harm biodiversity and the preservation of endangered, threatened, and special concern species. Skeptics also said 2022 wildfires on the island of Evia may have been set to clear land for more wind turbines, which the government ruled out.

Professor Vassiliki Kati, who oversees a research lab at the University of Ioannina, said her study on planning for wind parks showed apparent disregard for natural landscapes or protected areas and the negative impact of wind farms.

“In Austria, only 12% of wind power stations are planted in mountainous zones; in Greece, it’s 92 percent. That shows the lack of spatial planning in our country,” she said.

Renewable energies need huge storage capacities, and Greece is creating them. Up to 1,000 people are working on a pumped storage hydropower project in Amfilochia. Surplus wind power is transformed into hydropower on demand.

“The total installed capacity of our project is 680 MW for production and 730 MW for pumping, while the total storage capacity is approximately 5 Gigawatt-hours,” Vangelis Vassis from the project development team told Euronews.

“The total budget is €650 million ($692.62 million) – back in 2021, we got an EU grant worth €250 million ($266.39 million),” he said. “Terna Energy is trying to develop dozens of new hydro-pumped storage projects and let’s say three or four are mature enough right now to start construction. What would be really helpful is getting some European funding for this project,” he added.

“Offshore wind is a very new element in our national energy and climate plan, and this is why all these renewables, of course, are not needed for consumption within Greece,” said Ioannis Margaris, Deputy Chairman of the Greek grid operator IPTO.

“The strategy is for Greece to become an exporter of green energy to central Europe. Through the Balkans or Italy, to be able to export a surplus amount of renewables that we are going to have installed in Greece,” he said.

He added that, “This is why we recently proposed a new project between Greece and Germany that could go through the Adriatic Sea,” and said the plans were more expansive.

“There are also interconnections in the south; we have interconnections being planned with Egypt, with Saudi Arabia. Due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Europe has a lot of vital interest in these kinds of interconnections,” he said.

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