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The wind behind Europe's back

WITH EVERY boom comes a bust: as environmentalists celebrate the start-up of Europe's largest onshore wind farm, concerns are mounting over the sustainability of Europe's wind-power boom. Portugal's 240 megawatt (MW) Ventominho wind farm – a joint venture between France's EdF Energies Nouvelles and Eolverde, an Endesa subsidiary – started operating on 2 December. It consists of five interconnected sub-farms, near the Spanish border in the northwest of the country.

The French firm followed that announcement a week later by saying it had acquired a 50% interest in Polat Enerji, one of the principal developers in the Turkish wind-energy market, which last year saw its generating capacity grow by 220%. Turkey now has wind capacity of 206.5 MW, compared with just 20.1 MW at the end of 2005, according to the World Wind Energy Association (WWEA), which ranks the country as the 26th biggest producer in the world.

Turkey is one of several countries in southeast Europe investing heavily in wind power to meet growing demand for power within their economies and the EU's 2020 targets for member states (and those countries that want to join) to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 20% from 2005 levels and produce 20% of their energy from renewable sources. Energy analysts estimate the annual power deficit in southeast Europe at about 15,000 terawatt hours and forecast power consumption in the region will grow by about 2-3% a year over the medium term.

Romania, a new EU member, has just 8 MW of wind-power capacity. However, when Czech utility CEZ completes the construction of the Fantanele and Cogealac wind farms in Dobrogea region, about 17 km from the Black Sea, by the end of 2010, the two projects will together comprise the largest onshore wind farm in Europe, with a capacity of 600 MW.

Bulgaria, also a new EU member, has said it will spend €0.5bn ($0.6bn) into its wind-energy sector in 2009, with the aim of constructing 500 MW of generating capacity by 2010 and 1 gigawatt by 2015. It is an ambitious goal: at present, says Velizar Kiryakov, chairman of the Association of Producers of Ecological Energy, there is just 110-120 MW of installed wind capacity in the country. At the end of 2007, only 18 countries in the world had more than 500 MW of wind energy capacity, according to the WWEA.

To meet its goals, Bulgaria will need interest from more firms like Italy's Enel, which, on 3 December, received approval from Bulgaria's competition authority to buy 13 wind-power projects from Danish-owned Global Wind Power Bulgaria. The wind projects will have a combined capacity of 39 MW when they are completed in early 2009.

Inevitably, doubts have been raised about the ability of some of these projects to proceed in the present financial crisis. But William Ambrose, head of Emerging Energy Research, a consultancy, says the wind sector is not at risk. "While the global financial crisis is taking the steam out of the new energy boom, with a slow-down in new project spending expected in 2009, the long-term fundamentals remain in place – the globe is still warming, the earth's fossil-fuel resources are still being depleted and the developing world's demand for energy will continue to grow in leaps and bounds," he says.

For its part, CEZ has also said that the financial climate would have "no impact" on the utility's plans to develop wind energy in southeast Europe. And Stefan Szyszkowitz, chief executive of EVN Bulgaria, told Reuters in December that the Austrian utility was looking for renewable power producing assets in Bulgaria, Macedonia and Romania. "We will keep the level of investment, because we are not an industry that is highly affected by cycles," said Szyszkowitz.

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