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Many green ideas in the land of a thousand hills

"Participation is important in the energy transition," explains Peter Ramharter, Managing Director of WICON Engineering GmbH, pointing from the nacelle of the wind turbine in Lichtenegg to the surrounding settlements in the Land of a Thousand Hills, as the area south of Wiener Neustadt likes to be called.

"Many of the residents are involved in this wind turbine as limited partners or silent partners, a total of 67 people from the region, and we supply many more citizens with our electricity." The wind turbine, which has a rated output of 1.8 MW, was built with broad approval in the village - not something that can be taken for granted. "We involved the people here early on, also through the formation of an operating company," he elaborates. The extent to which the wind turbine is integrated into the community quickly becomes apparent when one ventures up into the nacelle, which is freely accessible on weekends. Very few wind turbines open their doors so freely, and so it is that a number of events, from staircase running championships to live DJ sets, have already found their home here at the Lichtenegg wind turbine.

However, the operators also wanted to participate in the electricity market and its opportunities, and they did so comparatively early on. "We commissioned the plant in 2002 and billed OeMAG for the electricity we fed into the grid in the first few years. OeMAG is the Austrian clearing and settlement agency for renewable energy generation. However, the price that could be achieved for each megawatt hour was limited. Today, we sell our electricity directly on the electricity exchange via power purchase agreements," explains Peter Ramharter. The trading scheme is that 20% of the electricity produced is sold by Next Kraftwerke in daily trading on the spot market and the remaining 80% receives a fixed price once a year for 12 months, which is achieved through a hedge on the futures market. "This is a good mix for us because we use a lot of flexibility and participate in the short-term price development, but still the majority of our production is hedged," Peter Ramharter describes the model. A lucrative concept that is only made possible by the electricity trader's dual expertise in short-term trading and longer-term forward transactions. While daily spot trading is the sole responsibility of Next Kraftwerke, the annual fixing of the forward market price is done in close consultation between the electricity trader and the operator. "This is a joint decision-making process in which Next Kraftwerke's market assessment is incorporated, but we have the final say on the timing of the trade."

In view of the sharp rise in electricity prices since 2021, this split has proved decidedly successful. "At the moment, we generate between 60% and 70% of our revenue from the 20% of electricity production that we sell on the spot market," explains Peter Ramharter. "We are very happy about the partnership with Next Kraftwerke, it is an extremely cooperative relationship, driven by close communication with our local contacts in Vienna." The two sides have been working together for over five years now. "We operate a wind turbine and do many other projects in the local energy industry, so we simply need a reliable trading partner with whom electricity trading is not only lucrative, but also straightforward and on target. For example, when it comes to dealing with maintenance and downtimes, this is where Next Kraftwerke is always very helpful to us."

The next step will be to further expand the on-site photovoltaic system and to build a battery storage system with a capacity of around four megawatt hours. Peter Ramharter still has a lot of plans for the wind turbine. "We won't run out of ideas," he says and laughs.