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The Warsaw Voice » Business » April 2, 2008
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Electricity From the Air
April 2, 2008   
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Wind power is the buzzword in Poland these days. Wind turbines have been popping up across the country, from Western Pomerania province to the Lithuanian border in the northeast and from Lower Silesia to the Bieszczady Mountains in the south. In central Poland, 15 turbines are located on Kamieńsk Hill near the town of Bełchatów. They produce 30 MW of energy, which is a quarter of the power currently generated by all wind farms in Poland. The wind turbines on Kamieńsk Hill are enough to satisfy the energy needs of a city the size of nearby Piotrków Trybunalski.

Demanding EU policies
Poland has no choice: the country will have to use more renewable energy sources, which apart from wind and water power include biomass, processed into biogas to produce electricity and heat. The European Union keeps toughening its requirements in this respect and by 2020 renewable energy is supposed to account for at least 15 percent of the country's total energy consumption. By 2030, this figure is supposed to reach 30 percent.

Almost all Polish experts say this is highly unrealistic. Previously, in its energy policy for the period until 2025, Poland estimated that renewable energy would account for no more than 7.5 percent of power produced here.

Maciej Stryjecki, director-general of the Polish Chamber of Renewable Energy, said in the Gazeta Prawna newspaper that in order to meet the first EU target, Poland would have to build facilities with a capacity of up to 9,000 MW in the renewable electricity sector alone, the cost of which would total 13 billion euros. Poland's current production capacity in terms of renewable energy places it in 24th position internationally. The renewable energy production potential of Germany, the world leader in this respect, is 80 times higher.

A slice of the cake for everybody?
Local authorities are rubbing their hands at the prospect of new sources of income. They are looking forward to at least catching up with the northwestern town of Wolin, which has 32 wind turbines, generating taxes that amount to 7 percent of the local community's budget. Farmers, in turn, are keen to make money from leasing land for wind turbines. There is also a host of smart investors who a while ago secured some very attractive locations and obtained documents allowing them to build turbines, except they were never going to build any themselves. They now want to take a profit on the properties and documents that permit future lessees to set up wind farms.

Planning and investing
The most common type of wind turbines at the moment are those with a capacity of 2 MW. In order to obtain 1 MW of power, the investor needs to spend zl.5.7 million on the construction and so the business is only profitable for medium-sized enterprises and energy giants. The largest Polish energy producer, Polska Grupa Energetyczna, has over a dozen sites on land and three on the Baltic Sea, but it is anybody's guess when the company will actually start carrying out the projects.

Meanwhile, the largest land-based wind farm in Poland and one of the largest in Europe is being built near the seaside town of Słupsk. It will have the capacity of 240-250 MW and consist of 104 turbines towering 100 meters above the ground.

Not all businesses interested in wind farms are willing to reveal their names to the public. A company in Zabrze in southern Poland is planning to build 100 wind turbines in the Paczków community in Opole province. The cost of the project is estimated at 200 million euros. Businesses from Germany and Austria will invest further millions in the same region, near Głubczyce, Prudnik and Kędzierzyn-KoĽle. The Press Button company in Cracow wants to build a wind farm in the Ł±czna community, and EPA in Szczecin has plans to invest in a farm near Tarnów 100 km east of Cracow. Thanks to German capital from Hamburg, a former military airstrip in Orneta, Warmia-Mazuria province, will be transformed into a forest of 23 wind turbines. In the same region, turbines will also appear in the towns of Gołdap and Wydminy. More reports about such projects appear in the media every month.

Blowing in the wind
What makes for a good location for a wind farm is not just the wind speed, but also the regularity of winds. The latter is of key importance to the amount of power generated throughout the year and, consequently, the profitability of the project. As for the wind speed, it should not drop below 6 meters per second. Such conditions in Poland can be found along the sea coast, in northern Mazovia, northeastern Poland near Suwałki and in the Podhale region south of Cracow. A third of Poland has such areas.

Wind farms can also take advantage of artificial hills, such as that in Kamieńsk, built atop a slag heap from the nearby Bełchatów open-cast lignite mine.

The selection of a suitable location, the most important decision in such projects, is usually made by a developer. This difficult process takes two to three years on average, because investors need to persuade local communities about the benefits of wind farms. While the farms do not cause pollution, they have downsides and opponents. To begin with, vast spaces are needed in order to guarantee the power output required to make these farms profitable. Critics often claim wind farms are a blot on the landscape. The chief local government officer in Walce in Opole province is already concerned that wind turbines will obstruct the spectacular view over the Sudetes mountain range. There are other concerns too-opponents say that wind turbines can kill birds when sited incorrectly and that they generate inaudible "infrasound" that is harmful to humans. The Polish Wind Power Association dismisses the claims, saying: "We know of no such research."

One thing is sure: any wind turbine should be sited at least 300 meters away from the nearest house.

Stanisław Misiak
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