The statement of the office of Vice Governor of the State Joseph Geisler to us
Dear Madam or Sir!
Thank you very much for your Email to the members of the Tyrolean government concerning the Tumpen-Habichen power plant. On behalf of Vice State Governor Josef Geisler, as the responsible member of the government, I am pleased to answer you briefly.
With regard to the nature conservation proceedings, it should be noted that an appeal is currently pending before the Regional Administrative Court regarding the Tumpen-Habichen power plant. The Regional Administrative Court has to decide on the admissibility of the WWF’s appeal against the 2015 decision. In the opinion of the Office of the Tyrolean Government, an appeal does not have a suspensive effect. In this respect, and without prejudice to the legal opinion of the Regional Administrative Court, construction is currently legally possible. In this case, the building contractor acts at his own economic risk.
With regard to the water legislation procedure, it is to be noted that the authorities have determined there is no deterioration of the biological quality component due to the shift in the hydromorphological quality component of the river. These findings were confirmed by the State Administrative Court.
Against this ruling, an extraordinary appeal to the Constitutional Court and an appeal to the Administrative Court were filed. The Constitutional Court has already refused to deal with the complaint.
It is true that in the years following the financial and economic crisis in 2008 Tyrol generated more electricity than needed and thus exported energy – but this surplus has fallen to below 5% of electricity generation in recent years.
It is also true, however, that we in Tyrol are currently importing about 60% of our energy requirements in the form of energy generated with fossil fuels – i.e. Tyrol is not an energy exporting state, but an energy importing state that is fully dependent on fossil fuels. In order to eliminate this dependency and to contribute to climate protection, the Tyrolean State Government has set itself the goal of massively reducing energy requirements by 2050 and replacing imported energy from fossil fuels with domestic renewable energy. In all the energy scenarios examined for this purpose, electricity (for mobility, industry, heat pumps for houses etc.) plays the central role in meeting our energy needs and is a key factor in the success of the energy system transformation. This means that although overall energy demand is expected to fall, electricity demand will have to rise for energy system transformation.
The two essential resources for electricity generation that we have in Tyrol are photovoltaics and hydropower. The experts‘ scenarios show that, in addition to a massive expansion of photovoltaics on all favourably situated roofs, we also need a further expansion of domestic hydropower. For this reason, the Tyrolean state government has already decided in 2011 that by 2036 approx. 40% of Tyrol’s still usable hydropower potential, i.e. approx. 2,800 GWh, should be exploited.
The Tumpen-Habichen power plant is one of the projects that will help to achieve this goal. The planned generation of 61 GWh annually renewable energy by the Tumpen-Habichen power plant (which corresponds to the electricity requirements of approx. 15,000 households) does not solve the energy problem on its own, but – if approved in the course of the legal procedures – it will make a significant contribution to it.
With kind regards
Dear Mr LHStv. Geisler, dear Mr Frankhauser
Thank you very much for your detailed answer. We would have prefered it to include references to give us the chance to understand your argumentation. In any case, we would like to go into this again and present our view on the – in our opinion – two core points of your answer below.
„With regard to the water legislation procedure, it is to be noted that the authorities have determined there is no deterioration of the biological quality component due to the shift in the hydromorphological quality component of the river.“
We never claimed any deterioration of the biological quality component. We did claim however that two out of three hydromorphological quality components (water balance and passability) would deteriorate by one class. It should be emphasised that these two components are precisely those that define the greatest special feature of the Ötztaler Ache as a glacial river, namely runoff dynamics and sediment transport. According to the „Weser Trial“ rulings on the European Water Framework Directive (we are unfortunately repeating ourselves here because this point has not been addressed by you), a deterioration in status already occurs when the status of one quality component deteriorates by one class, even if this does not entail a change in the classification of the ecological status as a whole (cf. (1)). We cannot identify any overriding public interest that would allow the project to be implemented despite the violation of the Water Framework Directive (see below). We therefore maintain our view that this is a violation of the European Water Framework Directive.
No public interest
„It is also true, however, that we in Tyrol are currently importing about 60% of our energy requirements in the form of energy generated with fossil fuels – i.e. Tyrol is not an energy exporting state, but an energy importing state that is fully dependent on fossil fuels. In order to eliminate this dependency and to contribute to climate protection, the Tyrolean State Government has set itself the goal of massively reducing energy requirements by 2050 and replacing imported energy from fossil fuels with domestic renewable energy.“
We very much welcome the efforts of the Tyrolean government to make a contribution to climate protection, to massively reduce energy requirements and to replace imported fossil fuels with domestic renewable energy. Nevertheless, the Tumpen-Habichen power plant is not needed to achieve these goals:
In 2018, the WWF published the study „Energy System Transformation and River Conservation“, which shows how the protection of Austria’s few intact waterways is compatible with the climate goals of the state and the federal government (3). Incidentally, the study is 8 years more recent than the study „Energy self-sufficiency for Austria 2050“ (Streicher et al., 2010) (4), which is usually referenced. The WWF study comes to the conclusion that for reaching the energy goals of neither the province nor the federal government, an expansion of hydroelectric power to the extent planned in Tyrol is necessary. The recommendations for action for Tyrol state are as following:
„The planned expansion of hydroelectric power in Tyrol is neither possible in an environmentally compatible manner nor necessary from an energy management point of view. An ecologically and socially acceptable expansion of hydropower (2014 to 2030) is to be planned with a maximum of 3,700 TJ (1,028 GWh). This goal can be achieved mainly through the hydropower plants already under construction, the modernisation and rehabilitation of already existing older hydropower plants (numerous small power plants) and the ecologically acceptable expansion of existing plants (e.g. Kirchbichl and Imst power plants). ((5), S.21)“ The study concludes that not even the expansion of the Kaunertal power plant or the expansion of the Kühtai power plant is necessary! The low energy yield of the planned Tumpen-Habichen power plant is not in proportion to its ecological impact and, fortunately, it is not needed.
The state owned energy supplier TIWAG specialises only in hydropower. However, the Energy System Transformation requires a flexible energy supply that also includes solar energy and biomass, for example ((4), p. 20f. and (6), p. 7f.). Various energy sources must be used to take account of the climate in the future and still meet people’s energy needs. The hydropower plans of TIWAG are often several decades old. In the meantime, however, we have long known how important the protection of rivers is for the environment and thus also for us humans (see e.g. (7)). These plans are therefore outdated, and it is time to look for better solutions. We have little hope that the TIWAG – being a shareholding corporation specialised in hydropower – will take the interests of the citizens of Tyrol into consideration. But we expect this from our government! We therefore demand the Ötztaler Ache be kept flowing freely and that the state government will stop the construction work immediately!
Sources and Links (German)
2) „Wie schlimm wird es?“, Zeit Online, 25. März 2020
„800.000 Euro Stornos in wenigen Tagen: Wie die Krise im Tourismus Österreichs gesamte Wirtschaft infiziert“, Der Standard, 5. April 2020
„Negative Ölpreise stehen bevor – heimische Konsumenten dürften davon wenig spüren“, Der Standard, 9. April 2020
4) Streicher, W., Schnitzer, H., Titz, M., Tatzber, F., Heimrath, R., Wetz, I., … & Steininger, K. (2010). Energieautarkie für Österreich 2050. Feasibility Study. Endbericht. Klima-und Energiefonds, Wien.