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Energy firm has high hopes for wind farm

A Swiss renewable energy firm wants to build the country's biggest and highest wind farm on the Gotthard Pass, supplying power to 15,000 people.

If the SFr48 million ($41 million) project gets the go-ahead, the turbines could be in operation by October 2009, a spokesman for REnInvest said.

With eight 78-metre high wind turbines, the Gotthard project would not only be the largest wind farm but also the highest in Switzerland, at 2,040-2,131 metres above sea level.

Wind power is an area in which Switzerland is lagging behind European Union nations. Wind turbines currently supply electricity for a mere 4,000 households.

The government is aiming to increase electricity produced by renewable sources to 500 gigawatt hours by 2010, equal to one per cent of Swiss electricity use in 2001.

A new reimbursement scheme for renewable energies to boost wind power production will start next year. It is hoped the lure of subsidies will help wind energy become more competitive, even if it remains a niche product.

Not plain sailing

However, obstacles remain before sails start turning in the Gotthard pass. The area first has to be rezoned by the local authorities before planning permission could be sought and granted.

The community of Airolo presented the rezoning plan to the Ticino cantonal authorities yesterday. "We are quite confident that in the interests of the community the green light will be given sometime in spring next year," REnInvest chief executive Claudio Zanini told swissinfo.

"Obviously we expect some objections from local and national organisations but we have already spoken to several organisations and they have reacted positively to the project," Zanini added.

The high, exposed location is an obvious choice for some – and out of the question for others. REnInvest will submit an environmental impact study in the coming months.

Plans for a wind farm on the Gotthard Pass are not new. A report on wind energy in Switzerland published by the state in 2004 said locating turbines in the Gotthard Pass would be "unobjectionable".

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Swiss wind farms generate about 14 gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity a year.
The government has set as its goal an increase of electricity produced by renewable sources to 500GWh by 2010, equal to 1% of Swiss electricity use in the year 2001. 50 to 100GWh should come from wind turbines.
Locations have been designated for 28 large wind parks and 68 smaller facilities.

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European context

The European Union produces two-thirds of the world's wind power.

Capacity has increased by 32 per cent in the last ten years.

Average production covers 2.8 per cent of global electricity consumption, equivalent to 23 million households.

According to the European Wind Energy Association, wind power should supply an additional 120 million households by 2020.

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