INFORMATION. Burgenland - a Best Practice example for a sustainable development of wind power in Austria?

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1 INFORMATION AT 2014 Burgenland - a Best Practice example for a sustainable development of wind power in Austria?

2 Five principles of WWF on nature, energy and climate protection 1. Global warming must not exceed 1.5 C (compared to pre-industrial temperatures). Therefore WWF is strongly committed to climate protection.. 2. In addition to sustainable renewable energy, the most important climate protection measure is the continuous reduction of (primary) energy consumption and thus of the corresponding emissions. Appropriate regulation and strict standards must be put in place to achieve the needed energy conservation and to improve the efficiency of energy services. 3. WWF strongly advocates a 100% renewable energy future by 2050 with a broad mix of sustainable renewable energy sources. 4. Development and production of any renewable energy must comply with stringent social and environmental criteria. WWF calls for forward-looking spatial planning for all primary energy sources with exclusion zones based on nature conservation criteria to prevent negative impacts on endangered species and habitats. In addition to Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) of individual projects, transparent Strategic Environmental Assessments (SIPs) have to be conducted during the development of strategies, programs and major projects with early involvement both of NGOs and of the population affected. Thus any positive and negative impacts on the environment, people and society may be identified in time and taken into account. 5. WWF is committed to a sustainable energy supply for all. Efforts to eradicate energy poverty must be environmentally sustainable and socially just. page 2

3 Content Most important key factors and WWF recommendations 5 1. Wind energy On the rise worldwide Wind power in Austria Burgenland: From energy importer to Best Practice example Historical heritage and difficult initial position Ambitious energy targets Advantageous location Regional framework concepts for wind power plants Nature conservation as a mission the provincial development program Nature conservation amidst competing interests Cross-sectoral coordination Expansion of wind power in Burgenland Overview of the development Secret recipe : Consensus-building approach Compensatory measures Actors and their roles The Public Policy makers Spatial planning Energy industry Nature conservation World Heritage representatives Key factors in detail Clear commitment of policy makers Innovative planning instruments Constructive cooperation between actors Physical preconditions Opportunity EU accession and use of support mechanisms Positioning of conservation organizations Benefits for the regional economy Summary and outlook Sources 39 page 3

4 About this report Climate change is an ever growing threat to the livelihoods and development opportunities of future generations and to biodiversity. One of its main causes is the excessive use of fossil fuels. From the point of view of WWF 1, switching to a fully renewable energy supply and reducing total energy consumption will therefore be an indispensable part of the solution. 2 However, the utilization of renewable energies requires elaborate and careful planning. Most of Austria s hydropower potential has already been developed, leaving only very limited scope for expansion. 3 Further indiscriminate river regulation works would cause grave damages to nature, leading to the loss of the last free-flowing river stretches. Bioenergy, on the other hand, is a mixed bag, with some generation techniques exhibiting a very unfavorable greenhouse gas balance, not to speak about the many places where it competes with food production and is inconsistent with biodiversity preservation. Wind and solar energy therefore play a pivotal role as renewable energy sources and will have to provide a major proportion of the future electricity supply. Hence there is an important and urgent need to create the preconditions that will enable the required expansion of wind power while, at the same time and on an equal footing, ensure the protection of biodiversity. As with other land uses (e.g. for construction, transportation, agriculture etc.), this should be based on social and ecological criteria and spatial planning with exclusion and priority zones. Safeguards must be put in place to prevent a loss of essential natural habitats, adverse impacts on endangered species and a net loss of natural non-built areas. During the last 15 years, the Austrian Province of Burgenland has recorded an unparalleled expansion of renewable energy generation. This small province, once a net importer of energy, transformed itself into an exemplary region which is in terms of the overall supply-demand balance - electricity self-sufficient. The aim of the study on which this report is based was to explore this development and to identify the key factors contributing to its success. The fact that this region in eastern Austria is both an ecologically highly sensitive area and an important tourist destination makes this case even more interesting: Since the roll-out of wind power was achieved while accommodating all these various interests, valuable conclusions could be drawn on how to deal in practice with the tension between nature conservation (on a regional level) and climate protection (on a global level). These findings could serve as a guide for action for a broad range of actors in other regions. Beyond that, the present report is intended as a contribution to the debate on energy supply, nature conservation and climate protection within the global network of WWF. Taking a firm stance towards renewables is not always straightforward, but given the forthcoming challenges it is becoming something of a necessity. In this respect, some of the findings from Burgenland may be helpful. 1 WWF Energy Report (wwf.at/de/energy-report) 2 Only a drastic reduction of total energy consumption by half until 2050 as compared to 1990 will make it possible to achieve in Austria the double aim of eliminating the pressure to exploit undisturbed natural habitats for energy production and covering all our energy needs with renewables. 3 Today about 60 % of Austria s electricity generation is based on hydropower, one of the highest percentages worldwide ( page 4

5 This analysis was made possible by in-depth conversations with a wide range of persons involved in the process, among them policy makers, representatives of administrative bodies, businesses, conservation organizations, national parks and special interest groups. These conversations were held over a period of several months. In a further step success factors were identified and combined to key factors to facilitate the transferability to other regions. Most important key factors and WWF recommendations 1. Clear commitment of policy makers During the conversations we had while preparing this report, one point was stressed time and again: a continuous and strong political commitment was required so that the existing resources could be actually put to use. Examples include the Governor 4 of Burgenland, Hans Niessl, described as the most constant player by one of the dialogue partners, as well as players at the local level like Rudolf Suchy, former mayor of Zurndorf, who used to be smiled at for strongly backing the first wind power plants back in the 90ies. A further decisive factor was the clear crossparty commitment to renewable energy and nature conservation. WWF- RECOMMENDATION: As policy makers, demonstrate leadership. Set clear policy objectives (e.g. 100 % renewable energy in the power supply by year x) and establish the required measures and timetables (and where necessary the financing plans) in a way that is understandable to everyone. Make sure that all stakeholders are involved already early in the development process. Be open to innovations and support pilot projects. 2. Innovative planning instruments and interdisciplinary approach The use of a regional framework concept as a planning instrument was both innovative and consensus-oriented. The zoning of suitable areas for wind power plants, an attempt to minimize predictable environmental impacts within the region, had several other beneficial effects, among them a high degree of planning reliability for operators of wind power plants and communities, a simplified decision procedure for the provincial authorities and transparency for conservation organizations and the local population. WWF- RECOMMENDATION: Make sure that mandatory, comprehensive zoning plans for wind power facilities are in place before approving major wind power parks. Define no-go zones (protected areas and biodiversity hot spots, e.g. routes of migratory birds, potential wilderness areas, natural forest areas or wetlands) and priority areas and establish clear rules for the approval of wind power plants. Make sure that spatial planning authorities (at the regional and supra-regional/national levels) and conservation organizations are involved right from the start. 4 Head of the Provincial Government (the Landeshauptmann ). page 5

6 3. Cooperation and exchange in workshops and workgroups Meetings taking place every few weeks provided a forum for exchanging views on the progress of the roll-out of wind power in Burgenland, bringing together representatives of the Province and of energy companies, the Provincial Environmental Ombudsman (established in 2003), representatives from spatial planning authorities and environmental and conservation organizations. Though there were some conflicts, as the participants admitted, all of them stressed that this forum for exchange and debate was a positive factor and that overall, a spirit of constructive cooperation prevailed, with the common aim of finding practicable solutions satisfying to all sides taking center stage. WWF- RECOMMENDATION: Involve local stakeholders right from the start, especially environmental NGOs and bird protection organizations. Create space for debates and exchange in the run-up to the decision making process. 4. Positive attitude among the population towards investments in energy generation and nature conservation In Burgenland, nature and nature conservation are highly valued. 5 Nature is understood as an economic factor, and it is an integral part of the region s self-image. Consent to investments in research and development and the expansion of green energies is usually forthcoming, partly thanks to the communication strategies of regional policy makers, energy suppliers and wind power operators. There were no bad surprises for local residents thanks to strategic planning, based on transparent zoning decisions understandable to everyone. Citizen protests as in the neighboring province of Lower Austria, where positions have become entrenched and a moratorium on the approval and construction of wind power plants was imposed in spring 2013, are almost unknown in Burgenland. WWF- RECOMMENDATION: Focus on creating public awareness right from the start to support a positive climate for nature conservation and renewable energies. This is a permanent process requiring cooperation as well. Support NGOs that create awareness, ideally based on long-term programs. Provide comprehensive information to all interested persons/stakeholders and openly communicate the chosen strategy. Show respect for local identities or integrate them actively. 5. Opportunity EU accession and support mechanisms Austria s accession to the EU in 1995 and the designation of a relatively small region as eligible for support under Objective 1 6 was perceived as a window of opportunity. The funds were used strategically by focusing on two sectors, tourism and renewable energy, and by attempting to create synergies between them (see Ecotourism in Southern Burgenland or the symbiosis of wind power and bird protection at Lake Neusiedl). 7 The obligation to submit a development plan for the province was turned into a kind of voluntary exercise and eventually into a distinguishing asset, as noted by the Austrian Conference on Spatial Planning in 2011: Burgenland is the only Austrian province benefiting from a sound and mandatory basis for the use of wind energy and 5 EU: ERDF- Promotion of renewable energy sources in Burgenland, See chapter EU: ERDF- Promotion of renewable energy sources in Burgenland, 2009 page 6

7 the construction of wind farms. 8 WWF- RECOMMENDATION: Use all relevant policy processes to develop a clear concept that creates transparency and a reliable framework of expectations for all stakeholders. Make sure that it is anchored in higher-level development plans. Boost international exchange, build alliances and become a part of bigger movements, e.g. Covenant of Mayors for local sustainable energy ( 6. Positioning of conservation organizations Conservation organizations and nature conservation authorities should be expected to display an inherent skepticism towards interventions in natural environments like the construction of wind power plants. On top of that, Burgenland is a highly sensitive region from the point of view of bird protection. Yet exactly this proved to be a blessing in disguise huge amounts of relevant data had been collected in the area for many years. Thus conservation organizations were endowed with a solid expertise right from the start of the debate on wind power, and their role was an active, constructive one, even strategy-shaping. Without the constructive participation by the nature conservation authorities of the Province, its Environmental Ombudsman, the representatives of the national park and the relevant NGOs (BirdLife), the landscape of Burgenland would certainly look different today. WWF- RECOMMENDATION: As conservation organization or nature conservation authority, participate constructively in the development of energy and zoning concepts/plans and the corresponding processes. Build the required expertise in time. WHAT WE MISSED IN BURGENLAND BUT URGENTLY RECOMMEND: 1. Cross-regional planning Wind, migrating birds or geographical landscapes do not adhere to political borders, so spatial planning for energy makes much more sense if it is based on close cross-border cooperation between municipalities, regions and countries. This applies in particular to border areas as for example along the border between Lower Austria and Burgenland or along the border between Burgenland and Hungary. In such areas, it is necessary to have a comprehensive coordination process in place BEFORE installing wind power plants, involving both experts and public authorities. We know very well that this may be a tall order for policy makers and public officials, mainly because of different responsibilities and expectations at each side of the border, but especially in regions hampered by historical cooperation barriers. Yet for us, cross-border cooperative policy development and planning is a great opportunity to create value added, both for nature conservation and the development of wind power. 2. Integrated energy concept An energy concept must be oriented towards the long-term, comprehensive and politically binding. While concepts like the one developed in Burgenland for the wind power roll-out are 8 ÖREK 2011 Good Practice page 7

8 narrower in scope, they show which strategies and instruments are conducive for a successful development. And it helps to take an interdisciplinary approach and start with a basic reflection on energy services, i.e. to ask questions like the following: How much energy do we actually need, for which purpose, and how can we avoid unnecessary energy consumption? An example: Do we have to drive by car for every little thing we need or is there a way to keep shops within walking distance, e.g. based on clever spatial planning? How can we cover our needs with as little energy as possible? For example, if it s often too cold in a house, do we opt for more heating or for improving the insulation? Both options increase the temperature in the house, but more heating would need five times more energy; better insulation is both cheaper and provides a more comfortable living atmosphere. The goals of an energy concept in a situation like in Austria have to include both a fully renewable energy supply and an accompanying reduction of energy consumption by about 50 percent. Essential elements include implementation strategies, financing plans and a politically binding character. 3. Revenue sharing across municipalities Municipalities with wind power plants collect payments from the investing companies. Zoning for wind power means that there are municipalities which are lucky because they get additional revenues through a wind power roll-out and municipalities which are lucky because they managed to spare their residents even more buildings in the landscape. But it may well lead to wind farm plans in areas which are problematic from a conservationist point of view. One remedy would be to distribute financial benefits through revenue sharing agreements between municipalities with multiple benefits: it would help to protect nature more effectively, promote better cooperation between municipalities and lead to a higher acceptance of wind power in the region. Cooperation, planning and revenue sharing on a regional basis have a well-proven record of success in Austria, whether in respect of the development of commercial or residential areas, major infrastructure projects or kindergartens and schools shared by multiple municipalities. We urgently recommend applying such a micro-regional approach and revenue sharing. page 8 Photo: Markus Axnix/Photo competition for The Austrian Tag des Windes, 2014

9 1. Wind energy 1.1 On the rise worldwide Once a wallflower, wind energy has rapidly grown to an industry with revenues in the billions. 9 In Austria, too, wind power plants have become a characteristic feature of whole swathes of land. For many, wind power is a prime example of a renewable energy, and it is certainly one of the most important technologies for climate protection: it promises a ready and effective alternative to traditional energy generation from fossil fuels. Wind power has a very positive greenhouse gas balance: In just a few months of operation, wind power plants may generate all the energy required for their manufacture. 10 On a good site, a wind turbine with an installed capacity of 3 MW may generate 138 million kwh in 20 years that translates to an avoidance of tons of carbon dioxide. The global wind energy potential exceeds global energy demand by a factor of 300. Moving air contains a lot of energy that must not be underestimated: every year, a 2 MW wind power plant gets the fuel equivalent of about one million liters of oil, and the potential resources are almost unlimited. 11 According to some calculations wind energy could meet a third of the electricity demand of Germany; in the UK, the theoretical potential would be big enough to turn the country into an electricity exporter, in addition to fully cover domestic demand. 12 The rise of renewables is reflected in its growing role in the economy. IRENA, the international agency for renewable energies, estimates in its latest review of renewable energy employment Renewable Energy and Jobs, published in May 2014, that about 6.5 million jobs worldwide can be attributed to renewable energy technologies, of which to the wind power industry. In Austria in 2013, the sector provided jobs to about people (including jobs at suppliers and jobs created through the installation, operation and removal of wind power plants). In the same year, Austrian wind power operators earned about 260 million EUR from power sales. 13 Despite its positive contribution to the economy as a whole, the boom has its critics. In many places, the concern about wind power plants relates mainly to their dimension. 14 Wind power is audible the rotors are not turning as smooth and noiseless as it may appear from the distance. But above all, wind power is visible: modern wind power plants in Austria have tower heights of more than 130 meters. The rotor blade tips reach a height of up to 200 meters, about the height of Vienna s Millennium Tower (for a comparison: Vienna s St. Stephen s Cathedral has a height of 137 meters). In addition, there are several conflicts with nature conservation (mainly adverse effects on birds and bats, but also drastic changes to the landscape) and health concerns. (Warnings frequently relate to the so-called Wind Turbine Syndrome, possibly caused by infrasound. So far, however, there is no scientific evidence for the association of health problems with infrasound from 9 Quaschnig, p Quaschnig, p Quaschnig, p BMVIT: Innovative Energietechnologien in Österreich. Marktentwicklung 2013 ( Innovative energy technologies in Austria. Market development 2013 ) 14 Stanzer, Gregori; Spanring, Christian: Windparks: GIS-gestützte Planungsmethoden zur räumlichen Steuerung, CORP 2004 ( Wind farms: GIS-supported planning methods for spatial regulation ) page 9

10 wind turbines. During the last few years, a further concern has emerged relating to rare earths used in the manufacture of wind power plants. 15 Neodymium is used in permanent magnets which eliminate the need for gear boxes in wind power plants. The extraction and chemical processing of Neodymium produces highly toxic waste products which pose a threat to groundwater and public health. 16 About half of the wind power plants in Austria are gearless, but Neodymium is used in only a fraction of them. Major advantages and disadvantages of wind energy at a glance 17 ADVANTAGES Renewable energy source that makes it possible to actually switch away from coal, oil, gas and nuclear energy. Reduction of energy import dependency (with an import dependency ratio of 63.6%, Austria is positioned in the lower third of the EU-28 1) ). A boost to the regional economy. In Austria, the wind power industry has already created jobs. 2) Cheap power generation (no need to buy fuels). Almost no negative external costs e.g. no health hazards like exhaust gases from coal power plants or the storage of nuclear waste which will remain radioactive for thousands of years. Short energy amortization period after a few months the power generated exceeds the energy used during manufacture and installation. No greenhouse gas emissions during operation and thus effective climate protection. No release of hazardous substances during operation. Generally more wind energy during the winter half year, thus complementary to hydropower and solar power. Few restrictions on the agricultural use of plant sites. Almost no residuals on removal after useful life-cycle, possibility of recycling. Only weak impacts on animal populations if sites are appropriately selected. DISADVANTAGES Adverse effects on birds and bats (direct losses through collisions, loss of habitats, disruption of migration patterns, etc.) Impacts on wildlife (avoidance behavior on migration routes, especially in narrow corridors). Changes to the landscape. Power generation partly subject to strong fluctuations (depending on wind incidence), thus need for connection to a large power grid and for storage technologies. Consumption of energy and raw materials during manufacture and disposal of wind power plants. Disturbances by noise impacts and shadow flicker (hence minimum distances to built areas) Amount of land taken up for foundations, construction sites and access roads. 1) As of end 2012; source: Windenergie No. 72, March 2014, p. 11 2) IG Windkraft 15 Rare earths are currently almost exclusively supplied by China (97%), a country where environmental regulations are still lax. See Based on Quaschnig, p.185, complemented by WWF. page 10

11 By taking into account the various interests and by adhering to certain basic rules (minimum distances, bans in protected areas), it is generally possible to keep the negative impacts within narrow limits. Furthermore, it is advisable to inform the population in advance this may be a decisive factor for acceptance. However, the main requirement for an environmentally sound operation of wind power plants is a thorough assessment of the environmental impacts during the planning phase (Environmental Impact Assessment 18 resp. Strategic Environmental Assessment 19 ). It is equally important to provide for a continuous monitoring and regular inspections of the facilities because conditions may change and new, hitherto unknown impacts may not be excluded. 1.2 Wind power in Austria For a long time, it was assumed that the Austrian wind power potential is too small to be exploited by wind power plants. This assumption would have remained unchallenged if not for some wind enthusiasts who, in the late 1980ies, made their own measurements proving that the opposite was true: Some sites in Austria are among the best in Europe, at par even with regions in Denmark and Germany. The theoretical potential in the Alpine foothills and in Alpine areas has attracted attention only recently. 20 AUSTRIAN WIND MAP Windgeschwindigkeit in 100m ü.g. Siehe auch: 18 See annotations in Annex 1 19 See annotations in Annex page 11

12 In 2013 wind power capacity additions in Austria reached a record: With an investment volume of 500 million EUR, 113 wind turbines with a combined capacity of MW were installed. More than half of the new capacity 52 percent was added in Burgenland. 21 For 2014, IG Windkraft expects another record expansion: Up to 170 wind turbines with a capacity of 483 MW are to be installed, implying investments of 630 million EUR. According to calculations of the industry association more than 4,600 people will then be working in the wind power sector. 22 Wind energy will have to provide an important proportion of Austria s power supply if the country is to build a sustainable energy system. At the same time, the preservation of biodiversity and the protection of valuable, aesthetically appealing landscapes must be guaranteed. Hence it is crucial to create preconditions that will enable the required expansion of wind power while ensuring that clear nature conservation criteria are met. Burgenland is an interesting case example of such a balancing act: A third of the province s area are protected areas, while the northern part of the province ( Northern Burgenland ) enjoys very favorable wind conditions and managed to massively expand the use of wind energy in a very short time span. The way to the wind wheel In Austria, decisions on the installation of wind farms fall under the jurisdiction of the municipalities. It is up to them whether to rezone properties for wind power plants or not. For a while this was not an issue on the one hand because wind power in Austria had a very slow start, on the other hand because earlier generations of wind power plants were much smaller than its modern successors. Today there is a trend towards building ever bigger facilities and to focus on productive sites. Approval procedure 23 For projects exceeding a certain dimension (20 facilities or a capacity of 20 MW; if protected areas are affected, 10 facilities/10 MW) an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is required. Below this threshold projects are assessed on a case-by-case basis. With an EIA, all the relevant legislation is applied by the Provincial Government in a consolidated procedure: Rezoning for grassland wind power plants (Municipality, Provincial Government Office) Procedure according to the Electricity Act (Provincial Government Office): - Electricity and building regulations - Noise impacts and shadow flicker Procedure according to the Nature Conservation Act (district authority 24 or municipality): - Appearance of the Landscape - Recreation value of the landscape - Bird protection, nature conservation Procedure according to the Aviation Act (Provincial Government Office) 21 IG Windkraft, press release 9/1/ IG Windkraft, press release 9/1/ Moidl, S.; Nährer, U., Scholz, G.: Windkraft Die Energie des 21.Jahrhunderts, IG Windkraft 2011 ( Wind power the energy of the 21th century ) 24 Bezirkshauptmannschaft page 12

13 2. Burgenland: From energy importer to Best Practice example Austria s easternmost province, the smallest in terms of population and third smallest in area (3,965 km²). A third of the territory of the province consists of protected areas. 171 municipalities. External border: 397 km. Neighboring countries: Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia. Status of a province since Northern Burgenland, the region best suited for wind power generation, consists of large plains and basins and some areas with low hills. Its landscape is dominated by open farmland with a low forest cover and distinguished, in spite of extensive draining measures in the 19th and 20th century, by a considerable number of major wetlands (Lake Neusiedl, the saline ponds and swampy pastures in the Seewinkel 25, the marshlands of the Hanság 26, the lowlands of the rivers Leitha and Wulka). With its biogeographic location at the transition from the Alps to the Eurasian Steppe and with the extension, the special quality and diversity of its wetlands (saline steppe lakes, marshes, lowland rivers), Northern Burgenland is a high-ranking biodiversity hotspot within Europe. This applies especially to its bird life, favored in particular by the open character of the landscape. While the intensification of agriculture has meant that only relatively small patches of near-natural steppe areas remain, the big cultivated areas have proven to be a kind of substitute habitat for many of the steppe species, e.g. the imperial eagle, the great bustard, the saker falcon, the red-footed falcon and the European ground squirrel (especially in the Parndorf Plain, the Leitha lowlands, Heideboden and Seewinkel). Exactly these species are highly sensitive to changes to the open character of the landscape, an unavoidable consequence of building wind farms. The extraordinary biological wealth of Northern Burgenland and its landscape, almost unique in Central Europe, are also the reason for the many high-ranking conservation areas in the region, ranging from the cross-border National Park Lake Neusiedl Seewinkel/ Fertö-Hanság to small conservation areas. The Austrian types of conservation areas are complemented resp. overlapped by many international conservation categories as for example Ramsar Site, UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, World Heritage Site and Natura 2000 Sites (i.e. areas protected by European legislation). Especially the bigger Natura sites around Lake Neusiedl/Seewinkel, Northeastern Leitha Mountains, Hanság, Parndorf Plain and the Leitha lowlands are of utmost importance for the expansion of wind power in Northern Burgenland. 2.1 Historical heritage and difficult initial position Until 1918, the area of present-day Burgenland belonged to the Hungarian part of Austria-Hungary. At the turn of the year 1921/22, Burgenland became part of the Republic of Austria as a new province. After the end of the Second World War, Burgenland was part of the Soviet occupation zone. The regional economy recovered very slowly; Burgenland received only 0.33 percent of the aid flows to Austria under the Marshall Plan, the U.S. initiative to rebuild the European 25 The region between Lake Neusiedl and the Hungarian border. 26 South-east of Lake Neusiedl, stretching into Hungary. page 13

14 economies destroyed by the war. 27 The economic environment remained as difficult during the time of the Iron curtain, and the region could not keep up with the pace of economic development in the rest of Austria. However, since 1995 Burgenland has made up a lot of leeway: Thanks to European support and the Eastern Enlargement of the EU, job creation has picked up. Today, Burgenland is a member of the European region CENTROPE 28, made up of areas in four countries (Austria, Slovakia, Slovenia and Czech Republic). In the run-up to Austria s accession to the EU Burgenland was granted a special status. As a peripheral, economically less-developed region 29 with a low population density, Burgenland was considered eligible for support under Objective 1 of the EU s regional policy. As one of the conditions 30, Burgenland had to submit a regional development plan already months before Austria s EU accession in Retrospectively, this had major implications for the development pathway chosen by the province in the following years not least in regard of its energy supply. 2.2 Ambitious energy targets The fact that Burgenland is today acknowledged as a pioneer in the use of renewable energies, remarkable on its own, is due to a rapid development. Since it came into existence, Burgenland used to be energy-scarce and dependent on energy imports. Thus there was a long-standing desire to improve the province s energy supply. Its own power company, BEWAG, was established in 1958, followed by a rapid expansion of energy supplies in the whole province; however, the province still remained dependent on imports. It was thanks to the efforts of a few people around Rudolf Zuchy, the then mayor of the municipality Zurndorf, that in 1997, more than 16 years ago, a wind power pilot project 31 was initiated involving the installation of six wind wheels. Until 2001, their number was raised to 13, and in 2002 power generation exceeded the 50 million kwh mark. The first wind power initiatives in the mid-1990ies were still smiled at, its protagonists labeled as green weirdos. It took several years to convince the Provincial Government that the development deserved to get some official support. In June 2006 the Provincial Parliament adopted an ambitious goal, supported by all the political parties: to achieve electricity self-sufficiency by The province should be in a position to cover all its electricity needs, and power generation One of the reasons for the structural weakness of Burgenland s economy is the nationalism and centralism prevailing in the Hungarian half of the Empire after The expansion of the Hungarian transport network during the second half of the 19th century was oriented towards Budapest; for political reasons, closer links between the predominantly German-speaking border areas of Western Hungary and the neighboring province of Lower Austria were considered undesirable. For the same reason, there was no special support for the infrastructural and economic development of the Western periphery of the country. This led to an economic backwardness of the region with lasting effects on present-day Burgenland until the 1960ies. Yet, as one of the side effects, an exceptionally large number of natural habitats were preserved in the region. 30 From 1995 to 1999 and from 2000 to 2006, regions of the European Union whose economic development was lagging behind were called Objective 1 regions. Most of these were peripheral areas with a low population density and a GDP of less than 75 percent of the EU average. These regions were supported to bring them more in line with the average. 70 percent of the financial resources allocated to the Structural Funds (one of them being the European Regional Development Fund) were earmarked for them. 31 With the participation of, inter alia, BEWAG, the Austrian oil & gas company OMV, Verbund (Austria s leading electricity company). page 14

15 should be based exclusively on renewable energy sources. In 2010, the proportion of renewables (wind energy and biomass) stood at 60 percent. 32 Helped by the new tailwind created by the policy of the province, the expansion picked up speed. Back in 2002, there was only one municipality to the north of Lake Neusiedl with a wind farm, Zurndorf. In 2013, Burgenland celebrated the year of the energy transition and itself as a model region for renewable energy. 33 At the end of 2013, the number of wind turbines had reached 332, with a combined installed capacity of 755 MW 34, and the expansion is set to continue in Advantageous location The Parndorf Plain, a gravel terrace, is about 40 to 50 meters higher than its surrounding areas in the Pannonian Basin a unique location turning it into one of the best onshore sites for wind power plants in Europe and one of the most productive sites in Austria. Winds are blowing rather steadily, with an average velocity of 6.5 meters per second at an altitude of 70 meters. Extreme conditions that would put a strain on the materials are rare. 35 As already mentioned, the area is only sparsely populated certainly a factor that favored a rapid roll-out of wind power plants. Photo: Parndorf Plain, Wikimedia/Tibor At the same time, the Parndorf Plain is also one of the province s most important areas from the point of view of bird protection. 36 Up to the early 20th century the landscape was distinguished by extensive steppe-like pasture areas, harboring a rich and unique bird population. With the intensification of agriculture after the Second World War most of these steppe-like areas were destroyed. Subsequently, the area attracted only minor attention from conservationists, as it was overshadowed by the neighboring region around Lake Neusiedl. The lasting importance of the Parndorf Plain from the point of view of bird protection and its potential as a conservation area was only recognized in the late 1980ies. In the mid-1990ies, protection measures were initiated with a focus on the great bustard, accompanied by large-scale agricultural set-asides. This led to a rapid growth of the remaining populations of many steppe species (e.g. great bustard, tawny pipit) and a recolonization by species that were locally extinct (e.g. imperial eagle, white-tailed eagle, red-footed falcon). With the establishment of the Natura 2000 Site Parndorf Plain and the start of the wind power expansion, the ornithological research efforts in the area were intensified. Thus it turned out that the area was not only a breeding ground for steppe species, but also played a key role as a partial habitat 32 Regional framework concept 2010, baseline situation, p.5 33 IG Windkraft: Burgenland bei Windkraftleistung Österreichs Nr.1 ( Burgenland Austria s No. 1 in wind power production ) 34 ibid. 35 Regional framework concept 2010, p.5 36 Berg, H.M. & M. Dvorak (2007), Dvorak (2009) page 15

16 for breeding birds and passing birds from the neighboring region around Lake Neusiedl and as a migration corridor between Lake Neusiedl and the Danube wetlands. Add the fact that many of the valuable bird species of the area (great bustard, birds of prey, geese) are highly sensitive to wind power plants, and the planned expansion of wind power appeared as even more of a problem. The search for zoning solutions compatible with nature conservation on the Parndorf Plain was therefore an urgent concern, leading to a commensurate engagement of NGOs and nature conservation authorities. 2.4 Regional framework concepts for wind power plants With the adoption of the Green Electricity Act , areas suitable for wind power plants were suddenly in high demand. The spatial planners in Burgenland were faced with an unusual situation: My first involvement with wind wheels came in 1997 when I got a call by then mayor Suchy who asked me about a quick rezoning for the planned wind farm in Zurndorf. This was actually my first activity as the competent district service officer 38 in which capacity I was also responsible for local spatial planning. At first I had no idea about the importance of the issue given that the project [Zurndorf] was hanging in the balance all the time, whether it could be financed at all. After that we still assessed some smaller wind farm projects. We, that were LAD 39 Spatial Planning, the nature conservation department with the Biological Station Illmitz, the Office of the Environmental Ombudsman and the spatial planning advisory council of the Provincial Government. At that time it was already clear that the use of wind energy will be a major project, and we jointly determined that it was impossible to make a comprehensive assessment on a case-by-case basis and that a regional basis was required. R.S. 40 Thus it was already in 2002 that the Provincial Government of Burgenland commissioned a so-called regional framework concept for wind power plants including a designation of suitability and exclusion zones. 41 see footnote Ökostromgesetz Gebietsbetreuer 39 German acronym for Landesamtsdirektion (Provincial Office Directorate) 40 Rupert Schatovich, spatial planner (retired) 41 Regional framework concept 2010, p.5 page 16

17 You have to imagine it like this: municipal areas close to each other, each municipality wanted a wind farm so the departments for spatial planning, nature conservation, landscape protection, the Biological Station Illmitz and other departments involved all said that is not something to be decided by each municipality alone, that has to be assessed as a whole. The LAD Spatial Planning s first attempt to develop a regional perspective was based on cooperation between the respective local planners. The regional approach was pushed especially by the ornithologists and the bird protection activists who had already good data on the Parndorf Plain. What finally came out of the debate was the unitary planning for the whole wind farm region. Since 2002, Burgenland is working with a regional framework concept for wind power plants and continues to use this approach. R.S. 42 The first step in the designation of regional suitability zones consisted in determining areas that should remain free from wind power plants for the following reasons: settlement development, landscape protection, protection of habitats of certain bird species, protection of recreation areas. 43 The next steps involved an examination of the remaining areas for possible cumulative effects of wind farms and an analysis of the so-called dominating effect of wind farms on settlements. On this basis, the dimension and the location of planned wind power plants were assessed in detail. Finally, certain areas were designated as suitability zones with reservation. 44 There are regional framework concepts for a range of subjects, but at the time there was no such concept for the installation of wind farms. To develop such a framework concept for wind power plants was first done here in Burgenland, as a result of various debates. R.S. 45 The zonings provided the basis for decision-making by authorities, municipalities and potential wind farm operators, with further beneficial effects: less assessment work for authorities and municipalities and higher planning reliability for wind farm operators. 46 Thus the project approvals were anchored in an approach based on a wider area, which was not the case in other Austrian provinces. Burgenland is one of the provinces where areas and sites are most precisely defined. The other provinces are very strong in regard of concepts, mostly verbally, but not as precise when it comes to definitions. In regard of energy planning this would be very important on the federal level as well. Certain areas would then simply be out of the question, as they are here. Then you don t have to argue, then I say: no, not there, impossible. Burgenland has a long tradition in doing things that way. 47 In order to achieve the objectives of the Provincial Government in Burgenland and in line with its guiding vision, the initial zoning for wind power plants (designation of suitability and exclusion zones) has been updated in 2006 based on new findings. 42 Rupert Schatovich, spatial planner (retired) 43 ÖREK 2011 Good Practice 44 The reservation related to the results of detailed assessments on the municipal level, see: ÖREK 2011 Good Practice 45 see FN ÖREK 2011 Good Practice 47 see FN 40 page 17

18 THE ZONING PROCESS 1. Determination of areas that should remain free of wind power plants (settlement development, landscape protection, protection of species etc.) 2. Examination of the remaining areas in regard to cumulative effects of multiple wind farms 3. Analysis of the dominating effect of planned wind farms on settlements 4. Designation of suitability zones with reservation. Awarded model The regional framework concept for wind power plants was awarded with the designation good practice example in the Austrian Spatial Development Concept One of the reasons cited for the award is that Burgenland is the only Austrian province to benefit from a sound and mandatory basis for the use of wind energy and the construction of wind farms. A special feature of the project was the steering group consisting of representatives of the project management, the Environmental Ombudsman of Burgenland, the Department 5 of the Provincial Government Office (responsible for regulations on plants and facilities, environmental protection and transportation 49 ) as well as of the Biological Station Illmitz, which were all significantly involved in the project. If needed the composition of this group was extended to include representatives of the Provincial Government, the municipalities and wind power operators. The conclusions were debated by the spatial planning advisory council of the Provincial Government; the zoning was approved by a government decision. Finally, the results were publicly announced by Governor Niessl during a press conference convened exclusively for that purpose. 50 The criteria taken into account by initial studies (precursor studies on the Parndorf Plain and the central region Eisenstadt/Mattersburg) were mainly ornithological, partly reflected in some bans of wind power plants. There was no further assessment of these prohibition zones. In the following years, the impacts of wind power plants on birds in the Parndorf Plain were comprehensively monitored. These data have been integrated to evaluate existing prohibition zones, apart from assessing new areas. This led to a partial re-evaluation of the areas based on ornithological criteria and to the decision to examine selected areas for the first time also from the point of view of spatial planning and landscape protection (World Heritage). 51 The examination encompassed also a few areas within former protection zones around residential building areas, tourism zones or exclusion zones for wind farms which were based on cumulative effects of wind power plants. The question was whether there was a need for a re-evaluation of these areas related to a possible change in the cumulative effects or to a zoning change of the areas concerned. 52 The objective of the regional framework concept was to create an up-to-date and transparent foundation for the site decisions of the Provincial Government which can be effectively communicated to the public. The purpose was to provide investors with higher planning reliability, to help specialized departments and project applicants to save time and money and to safeguard 48 Provincial development program, 2011, p. 31; see also chapter Abteilung 5 Anlagenrecht, Umweltschutz und Verkehr 50 ÖREK 2011 Good Practice 51 Regional framework concept, p.6 52 ibid. p.8 page 18

19 valuable habitats for humans and nature. A careful assessment of the impacts of wind farms, both in the regional context and in regard of cumulative effects, is imperative. 53 One thing was always clear to me: It is important, apart from our assessment, to look for potential conflicts between wind power and bird protection on a regional level and to take account of them in our findings. And you have to reach an agreement on the assessment on three levels: within the authorities, with the independent Provincial Environmental Ombudsman and with organizations knowledgeable of the region, e.g. the National Park. We went for cooperation in working groups Nature conservation as a mission the provincial development program Burgenland, and here I have to go back to history again, did not have a homogeneous spatial structure because it was formed from mainly German-speaking areas of three comitati55 of Western Hungary. Already in the mid-1960ies the Provincial Government had adopted a decision acknowledging that in order to create a new structure for the province, an effective spatial planning was required. Since the mid-1960ies, the province has been using provincial development concepts. 56 Since 1994, when the need for a provincial development plan arose with the forthcoming EU accession, the spatial, societal and economic conditions of the province had undergone considerable change. Thus the spatial development strategy of the province had to be updated resp. adjusted. In 2010 a new provincial development program, known by its German acronym LEP 57 was developed, with its main thrust expressed in its title: With nature to new successes. The objective of electricity self-sufficiency, fully based on renewables, was affirmed in the draft ordinance for the new program. 58 It is understood as a road map for the next 10 to 15 years and intended to provide direction and certainty in challenging times, as the province is faced with several conflicts between globalization and regionalization, growth and resource limitations, tradition and modernity. 59 The LEP was adopted as an ordinance in November Nature conservation amidst competing interests Burgenland is distinguished by a high proportion of protected areas a third of its territory is under some kind of protection (nature conservation areas, protected landscapes, nature parks and Natura 2000 Sites, etc.). The most renowned and biggest nature s jewel of the province is the Lake Neusiedl, surrounded by the cross-border National Park and the World 53 ibid. p.8 54 Gregori Stanzer, spatial planner (OIR) 55 Comitatus, in German Komitat, was the name given since the Middle Ages to an administrative region in Hungary comparable to a province of today s Austria. With the separation of Burgenland from Hungary, four comitati in Western Hungary, entities existing for more than 1,000 years, were arbitrarily cut into pieces, apart from being partly substantially reduced in size, with corresponding effects on the infrastructure. 56 Rupert Schatovich 57 For Landesentwicklungsprogramm 58 ÖREK 2011 Good Practice 59 LEP 2011, p.12 page 19

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