Greece: wind suffers as referendum looms


July 3, 2015

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On Sunday, people in Greece are due to go to the polls again.

Five months ago they voted anti-austerity party Syriza into power, and the party has been an annoyance for the European Union ever since. Now, is has inflamed the situation by giving the Greek public the chance decide whether to accept a €15.3bn bailout from the EU and International Monetary Fund.

The stakes could not be higher. A ‘no’ vote to reject the terms of the bailout package would likely result in Greece leaving the euro, with EU leaders calling the referendum a decision on whether to remain in the eurozone. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis are both campaigning for a ‘no’ vote because they said the terms of the bailout amounted to “blackmail” by lenders to impose more fiscal austerity on Greece.

A ‘no’ vote is not certain. Indeed, a ‘yes’ vote in favour of the bailout package in order to stay in the euro looks slightly more likely at this stage. But one thing is certain: whether the Greek people vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on Sunday, it will not end the political and financial turmoil.

And that is a continued headache for those working in Greek wind.

The country has strong wind resources, which rank close to Scotland’s. It is still one of the 25 largest wind markets globally, with installed capacity of more than 2GW. And we have seen enough activity to know that wind development in Greece does work.

The problem is that uncertainty over the country’s financial situation has contributed to it falling well short of its target of 4GW installed wind capacity by 2014. Investors from the likes of France, Germany and Spain have invested in the country, but new installations have stalled at around 100MW a year due in part to wider financial and political concerns.

Meanwhile, the focus on austerity has pushed the country away from renewables.

Under Syriza, the government has committed to pursuing further development of lignite, which already accounts for 70% of Greek electricity generation, because it sees is as a cheap option. Tsipras spelled out the party’s approach to renewables last year.

He said: “We were a party that had the environment and climate change in the centre of our interest. But after these years of depression in Greece, we forgot climate change.”

And the other reason wind has suffered in Greece is because feed-in tariffs were so much higher for the solar industry between 2009 and 2014. The led to a rush of investment in Greek solar and attracted companies to solar that would otherwise have invested in wind. The country now has 2.6GW of installed solar and met its 2020 target for solar installations in 2013, with the sector accounting for 7% of the country’s electricity demand last year.

That latter problem is not the fault of Syriza, but uncertainty around the referendum is. At the moment, Greek wind is in the hands of the EU’s most controversial political pair: Tsipras and Varoufakis.

It is a frustrating place to be. Both have said they would go in the case of a ‘yes’ vote but, in that case, the uncertainty would remain.

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