Austria is one of the most densely forested countries of Central Europe. It is second to Slovenia and third after Finland and Sweden in the EU. Approximately 46 percent of the total land or 3.92 million hectares are woody areas.
Austria is specialised in small-scale district heating plant. More than 150 plants are in operation with a thermal output of <1MWth. The use of biomass as fuel for heating is a well-established fact inasmuch as 20% of buildings currently use biomass as fuel for heating. Woody biomass such as log wood and wood chips is utilised to heat living spaces. In addition, it is important to note that nearly 80 percent of the renewable energy sources originate from forests10.
A. INSTITUTIONAL ASPECTS
A.1 POLICIES, STRATEGIES AND PROJECTS
The reasons for the positive development in the past lie in the fact that RE has been a long-term priority of Austria's energy policy, resulting in a broad range of subsidies and research facilities. This has been a result of the goal to promote the development of RE early on in order to ensure an environmentally sound sustainable energy supply. Moreover, the policy of the Austrian Agricultural Ministry emphasises three priorities:
_ Improving product quality
_ Fostering sustainable agriculture
_ Preserving family farms
A.2 THE ROLE OF TECHNICAL AGENCIES
The EU is promoting the production of biomass on set-aside land and in Austria, Agrar Markt Austria (AMA) carries out this aid.
Government Organisations involved:
_ Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry: supports SRF production, establishment of rural district heating plants, purchase of biomass heating system, research, financial support;
_ Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs: energy policy, energy statistics;
_ Federal Ministry of Environment: CO2 reduction, Kyoto issues, support of clean technologies;
_ Federal Ministry for Science and Traffic: Research, Universities11;
_ On a provincial level, the departments of the provincial governments such as the Energy Commissioners of the provinces and the Energy Efficiency Agencies;
Non-Government Organisations involved:
_ Austrian Biomass Association (Österreichischer Biomasseverband): shapes the national and international public opinion about environmental and energy policy and inform decision makers in politics about the possibilities and the advantages of biomass;
_ BLT WIESELBURG - the Federal Institute for Agricultural Engineering, a research and development, trial and training centre concerned with agricultural mechanisation, bioenergy, and renewable resources;
_ JOANNEUM RESEARCH is a contract research organisation owned by the Austria State Styria. One of its institutes specialises in research on renewable energy, energy conservation, and emissions from energy conversion processes. The institute works in co-operation with industry, government organisations, and service enterprises such as heating plant operators12.
B. LEGAL ISSUES
Federal Constitution of Austria (Bundesverfassungsgesetz) (Art. 15): Minimal efficiency and emission limitations for automatic residential heating systems up to 350kW are determined as a general rule in agreements between the Federal State and the provinces.
According to the Federal Law, the targets of environmental planning are to be determined in general. The provinces and municipalities shall formulate in detail how they will be carried out such targets. For example, in the Styria energy plan is determined to raise the contribution of biomass to the energy supply of the province from 14 percent in 1994 to 20 percent in the year 2000.
_ FINANCIAL REGULATIONS
Federal and provincial governments are subsidising almost all RE-based technologies. The public funding available for research on RE has been rising continually over the last few years and now amounts for about seven M ECU per year.
Federal Government's subsidies:
ˇ "General agreement" among the Minister of Economic Affairs and electric power companies (July 1997): sponsoring of electricity from biomass, fixing of a federal maximum of feed-in tariffs (until Jan.'98 not in force);
ˇ Investment fund established by the Minister of Economic Affairs for investment in electric power plants based on RE (1997);
ˇ "Energie 2001": everyone who is allowed to produce and sell heat (maximum power 120kW) made out of biomass can be supported;
ˇ Investment subsidies or cheap loans for farmers and co-operations of farmers, starting up a RE plant, or a biomass fired heating system, is active in Austria.
Provincial Governments subsidies:
ˇ local Biomass fired heat distribution is sponsored in Styria, particularly when the initiative comes from a group of farmers and foresters;
ˇ Biomass fired heat distribution is subsidised in the area of Tyrol;
ˇ Biomass plants, district heating systems, and research are subsidised in the area of Vorarlberg.
FINANCIAL INCENTIVES FOR THE PRODUCTION OF ENERGY CROPS:
ˇ direct investment subsidies are available where the Federal Minister for Agriculture and Forestry provides 13 percent and the Upper Austria Government 33 percent;
ˇ Subsidised agricultural investment loans are granted for a period of approximately 10 years.
FINANCIAL INCENTIVES FOR THE CONVERSION OF ENERGY CROPS:
ˇ Subsidies up to 40 percent of the investment cost are available for Biogas facilities.
FINANCIAL INCENTIVES FOR THE UTILISATION OF ENERGY FROM ENERGY CROPS:
ˇ biomass district heating systems by farmers co-operatives: subsidies up to 50 percent;
ˇ district heating systems based on wood or straw: subsidies up to 40 percent of the investment cost;
ˇ automatic wood firing systems for individual houses: subsidy of approximately 1,500 ECU in some provinces only;
ˇ Electricity produced from RE: agreement under negotiation - utility companies will be required to buy electricity produced at special rates of 20-45 percent above the normal tariff13.
The standardisation of fuels is one requirement for the establishment of a market and designing boilers and heating systems. The emission standards determine the measuring method and the limits of air pollutants.
- ÖNORM M 7132 (Austrian standard): Energy-economical utilisation of wood and bark as fuel; definitions and combustion properties.
- ÖNORM M 7133 (Austrian standard): fuel-chips for energy production; requirements and test specifications.
- ÖNORM M 7135 (Austrian standard): compressed pieces produced of biomass forestry; part 1: wood briquettes, wood pellets; marking of conformity; part 2: bark pellets, bark briquettes, bark sticks; marking of conformity.
- ÖNORM M 9465 (Austrian standard): emission limits for air contaminants of straw incinerating plants up to a rated heat output of 75 kW; part 1: requirements and testing on the site; part 2: requirements and testing on the bench.
- ÖNORM M 9466 (Austrian standard): emission limits for air contaminants of bark and wood incineration plants of a fuel heat output from 150 kW upwards; requirements and testing on the site.
C. MAIN CONCLUSION
The main barrier of all the above-mentioned energy sources was the absence of external cost evaluation. A first step in the direction of internalising external cost had been the introduction of an energy tax on gas and electricity starting June 1996. This tax applies to small-scale as well as industrial users. Approximately 12 percent of the tax revenue is made available to the Federal Provinces for the implementation of energy saving and environmental protection measures, including measures for the promotion of RE.
Furthermore, a deficiency of a strong pro-biomass energy policy exists. Likewise, insufficient financial support in relation to the low prices of competing products such as straw and wood processing by-products also has to be pointed out. It is rather difficult to make a prospective potential estimation for bioenergy sources as the actually used potential depends on different conditions. In Austria only 2/3 of the annual increase in wood are currently used because of unfavourable economic conditions.
10 Austria National Strategy - AFB nett Phase II, December 1996.
11 EU-DGXVII "Woodfuel for Heating Systems- European Catalogue .
12 EU-DGXII - "Woodfuel for Heating Systems - European Catalogue".
13 AFB-NETT III and BIOGUIDE II - Final Reports, December 1997.