Opponents fear more turbines will turn a rural region into an industrial zone
By Angeliki Koutantou and Vassilis Triandafyllou
EVIA, Greece, May 26 (Reuters) - Greek environmentalists are protesting against a flagship windfarm project whose giant turbines they say will ruin acres of ancient forests - underlining the tough choices the government faces in implementing a green energy drive.
"There are hundreds of trees stretching for kilometres which will be destroyed," said mountain climber Tassos Baltas, part of an informal coalition of environmentalists, citizens' groups and local authorities who oppose the 470 megawatt, 100-turbine scheme.
Greece is pushing to increase its clean energy resources to meet European Union climate targets and transform its economy after years of financial crisis, and the new project will see turbines scattered across several locations from the Dirfys mountains south to the Aegean island of Evia.
Having long relied on heavily polluting brown coal or lignite, Greece plans to shut down all its coal plants by 2025 and boost the share of renewables in gross final energy consumption to 35% by 2030 from 20% last year, as part of an EU-binding target to cut CO2 emissions by 55% by 2030.
"Knowing that Greece has lagged behind in issues related to climate and energy targets all the previous years, the government wanted to be among Europe's champions in the green transition," said Secretary General for Energy Alexandra Sdoukou.
Wind energy capacity in Greece has tripled since 2010, and increasing numbers of giant turbines loom over windswept mountains and coastal areas.
Thanks to regular high winds and proximity to the mainland's power grid, Evia has seen hundreds spring up. Local authorities say the government is moving too fast and without community support.
"We are not trying to fight with the government nor are we against investment, we just believe that the way this is being developed it is badly planned," said George Kelaiditis, the deputy prefect of Evia.
The Karystia district in southern Evia is already full of windfarms and opponents say more turbines will turn a largely agricultural region that also attracts tourists and nature lovers to its forest trails into an industrial zone.
"They neither provide jobs or any economic benefits to the region. The opposite in fact, they are going to create problems with the economic activity in the village of Steni," said Vasso Mela, a central Evia resident.
While the government insists that development will not be rammed through over local opposition, a global turn away from fossil fuels means it faces heavy pressure to build up its clean energy infrastructure quickly.
"Greece has lost a great deal of time in the proper development of renewable energy resources," said Theodota Nantsou, policy director for the World Wide Fund for Nature in Greece.
"Its decision to move away from lignite came very late in 2019 and now it is scrambling to catch up."
(Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou; editing by John Stonestreet)