Just a few days into my six-day stay on the Greek island of Paros this summer, I was amazed that I hadn’t yet seen a single wind turbine or solar array. The wind blew constantly, and I literally didn’t see a cloud in the sky the whole time I was there. I was mystified that this tiny island, and those surrounding it, weren’t (as far as I could tell) taking advantage of the abundant clear energy sources available to them. A conversation with Greenpeace International’s executive director Gerd Leipold confirmed my suspicions: not only were the Greek islands not taking advantage of these resources, but there was an organized resistance to proposals to bring wind turbines to them. Leipold told me also that another coal-fired power plant was in the works to produce electricity.
The Travel section of today’s New York Times delves into this issue a bit more deeply, and notes that Greece’s total wind power development, about 800 megawatts, is well behind other European countries. Furthermore, electricity production comes largely from burning brown coal, or lignite, which, according to the Department of Energy, is the lowest grade of coal; it also creates more CO2 emissions than other forms of coal burning. Writer Joanna Kakissis notes that Greeks have good reasons to be alarmed at this reliance on lignite as a primary power source:
Scientists say Greece faces dire consequences from climate change and must adopt renewable energy sources. The tinderbox conditions that helped spread last summer’s fires in the Peloponnesus were a result of drought and heat waves, which some experts say were caused by climate change.
“If the climate gets worse here, tourists will vanish and not come back,” said Nikos Charalambidis, director of Greenpeace Greece.
With tourism accounting for 16% of the country’s GDP, that’s a real concern. But, as Kakissis notes, tourism is the reason often given for not shifting to wind power: Angeliki Synodinou, the mayor of the island of Serifos, for instance, has opposed a wind project there, claiming “No one would come here… Our island would be destroyed.”
As we’ve seen here in the US, the arguments against wind power in the Greek isles largely comes down to aesthetics and noise concerns — all others have been largely disproven. Claims that turbines would drive away tourists seem far-fetched at best, and just haven’t proven true in other places. In Greece itself, a “41-turbine wind park on Panachaiko Mountain near the northern Peloponnesian city of Patras has even become a much-photographed landmark, [Ioannis Tsipouridis of the Hellenic Wind Energy Association] said.” In other parts of Europe, carefully sited turbines co-exist with tourist attractions and even environmentally sensitive areas.
Wind energy opponents are a pretty stubborn lot, and I doubt anyone will convince them that wind turbines in the Greek islands would ultimately benefits residents and tourists. Given the most likely alternative of more coal power, it’s a little hard to understand their thinking. As much of that coal likely has to be shipped to at least some islands, it’s hard to imagine that wind wouldn’t be a more cost-effective option in the long run.
Image credit: Yannis Kolesidis for the New York Times
An interesting article which points out a few energy concerns I had not realised, mainly around coal burning. I would agree that the wind around the Greek islands is ripe for harnessing. I do however, have reservations and would take issue with statements such as;
“Claims that turbines would drive away tourists seem far-fetched at best, and just haven’t proven true in other places”
As a regular visitor to the Greek islands year after year I would certainly not enjoy them as much with wind turbines scattered around.
The main reason I, and many other tourists, go to the Greek islands are for the peaceful atmosphere, the beautiful rugged terrain and the views over the seas.
I agree, certain clusters of wind turbines would be beneficial and may also be of interest to tourists but these would need to be very very carefully planned.
Sitting on a beach listening to the hum of wind turbines would not be my idea of peace.
Don’t get me wrong. I am all in favour of wind turbines but only if they are carefully considered and planned.
Very much enjoying your blog though.
brian in denver
with the rich history of science, art and creativity can the greek people not develop a suitable form of sustainable energy that mimics their culture and surroundings?
i too traveled to the islands and was appaled at the large power plants billowing large clouds of smoke and bright lights during the night from the facilities.
Among the many visitors to Greece are the not insubstantial numbers of those who charter sailing boats. Most yacht sailors appreciate the energy value of wind for their own purposes of transport and pleasure, and also appreciate the aesthetics of wind- turbines that contribute to a sustainable future. Greece needs to be bold, its a beautiful country and the tourists are more likely to come if they feel that they are part of a sustainable system and not just burning fossil fuel to heat warm water for their shower yet burning more lignite to run the aircon.