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Analysis: Turkey embraces wind power

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by John C.K. Daly
Washington (UPI) Feb 1, 2008
In an era of record high oil prices, many countries increasingly are turning to alternative fuels, including biofuel, solar energy and wind power. This pattern is typically pronounced in Turkey, forced to import more than 90 percent of its energy needs, with energy suppliers that are not only expensive, but erratic.

In 2006, Turkey spent $29 billion on energy imports, primarily from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Russia. High prices and fickle suppliers have stimulated Turkey's growing interest in wind power.

Turkish interest in alternative fuels has been spurred by recent events. Turkish natural gas imports come primarily from Russia via the South Stream pipeline and Iran. On Dec. 31, Turkmenistan halted its deliveries of natural gas deliveries to Iran, citing the need for urgent pipeline repairs. The cutoff subsequently forced Iran to reduce its gas exports to Turkey by 75 percent, from 20 million cubic meters to 5 million cu. m., as inclement weather increased domestic demand, disrupting Iran's domestic gas distribution. Tehran subsequently claimed that Turkmen action was, in fact, a retaliatory move over proposed price increases. Iran then stopped shipments completely Jan. 8, leading Ankara the next day to halt the flow of Azeri gas to Greece because of the suspension of gas supplies from Iran.

Turkey is Iran's sole export market for natural gas, but the relationship has not been smooth, again due to disputes over price. The Turkmen incident had a feeling of deja vu, as in January 2006 Iran halved its supplies of natural gas to Turkey to around 7 million cubic feet per day, citing "climactic conditions" and increased domestic need, while in December 2006 it temporarily shut off supplies completely.

During the most recent dispute, Turkey turned to Russia with a request for additional natural gas supplies, but was rebuffed. Instead, Moscow also reduced exports, citing severe weather. As natural gas powers half of Turkey's power stations, state pipeline company Botas was forced to tap reserves in its gas depot near Silivri, Turkey's sole gas-storage facility.

The incident has provided further incentives to Turkish efforts to seek alternatives. A measure of Ankara's determination to free itself from the grip of avaricious, erratic energy suppliers is a dramatic rise in governmental interest in wind power, which is illustrated in government figures. While in 2006, wind power in Turkey generated 19 megawatts of electricity, last year Turkey's 10 wind farms produced nearly 140 megawatts, a 736 percent increase.

Turkey's interest in renewable energy dates back to 2005, when the Turkish Grand National Assembly passed a renewable energy law harmonizing government legislation with European Union legislation to support renewable sources, including wind power. The new law provided a government guarantee to purchase electricity at a set price for seven years.

Marmara University Energy Department Associate Professor and World Wind Energy Association Vice President Tanay Sidki Uyar recently said that if Turkey properly developed all of its renewable energy potential resources, including solar, wind, hydroelectric and geothermal power sources, the country could become self-sufficient in energy. Uyar told, "Wind power could supply Turkey's electricity needs twice over within five to 10 years if the government had the political will to develop this sector." Uyar added, "We have terrific geographic conditions for solar and wind power in Turkey. Exploiting it is already economically and technically possible, but the problem is that the government favors fossil fuels and nuclear energy."

Epitomizing Ankara's determination to become energy self-sufficient is a contract signed last July with General Electric for 52 of its latest generation of wind turbines with a generating capacity of 2.5 megawatts apiece. The GE 2.5xl is the largest GE wind turbine available for onshore applications and is specifically designed to meet EU requirements, where the relative lack of available land is a significant constraint on project size. While previous wind park projects were primarily situated in Turkey's western regions and the Aegean coast, the 130-megawatt GE wind power project in southeastern Turkey will be the world's largest installation of GE latest 2.5xl wind turbine technology and will more than double Turkey's installed wind capacity.

Turkey is not limiting itself to U.S. suppliers; on Jan. 30, Turkey's Rotor Energy Co., a subsidiary of Zorlu Energy, signed a contract with Ecosecurities to build a wind power plant in the southern province of Osmaniye. The Osmaniye facility, scheduled to come online in 2009, will initially generate about 135 megawatts daily, with an annual capacity of 500,000 megawatts.

Ankara is not moving on the issue as swiftly as alternative energy advocates would like, however; proposals to build wind farms with a total operating capacity of 8,000 megawatts is still awaiting government approval. Ankara has already issued about 40 licenses for wind parks, each with an installed 20-60 megawatt capacity.

The future looks bright for alternative energy companies, as the Turkish government intends to privatize a significant proportion of the country's primarily state-owned energy and gas supply companies over the next few years. Given the "pipeline politics" that Turkey has recently endured with its fickle natural gas suppliers Russia and Iran, Ankara's move toward alternative energy makes both fiscal and ecological sense.

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