Voters pull plug on giant solar power project in Austria

Setback for 2040 climate goals as 52-hectare park is rejected in local referendum

Critics of the planned solar park said panels should be built on roofs instead. EPA
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Austria’s ambitious climate plans have suffered a setback after a proposal to build the nation’s biggest solar energy park was rejected by 181 votes in a local referendum.

The planned solar panels were to be built on 52 hectares of farmland, an area more than four times bigger than the largest currently operating site.

It comes with anti-nuclear Austria relying on a huge expansion of solar, wind and hydroelectric energy to meet its climate goals and reduce its reliance on imported oil and gas.

Developers said the project would make the small town of Wimpassing, about 40 kilometres from Vienna, one of the first places in the country to reduce its carbon footprint to zero.

But they failed to persuade residents, who objected to the size of the project, the change to the rural landscape and the use of arable land for the project.

The small local electorate rejected the proposal by 491 votes to 310 in a poll held on Sunday.

“We have sent a clear signal … that we do not want power plants of this size on valuable arable land,” said the local branch of the Austrian People’s Party, which opposed the project.

Austria has a target of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2040, earlier than the EU’s 2050 deadline or the 2045 date envisioned by Germany.

The state of Burgenland, home to Wimpassing, has set itself the even steeper goal of reaching climate neutrality by 2030.

Energy officials say Austria needs to generate an additional 11 billion kilowatt hours of solar power over the next decade to meet the nationwide targets.

Designers of the Wimpassing park had argued that Austria did not have enough suitable roofs to reach this target without building on farmland.

This was partly because residents lacked the money or the desire to install solar panels on their roofs.

Astrid Eisenkopf, who holds a climate change portfolio in the Burgenland government, said the park would cover Wimpassing’s entire annual energy supply.

Developers had hoped to win over voters by promising that an artful design would prevent the solar panels from spoiling the view.

But the project sparked fears that a loss of natural heritage would damage tourism in the area.

“Our region is too small for solar parks of this size — they’re suitable for more spacious areas where settlements are not so close together,” said Martin Radatz, the mayor of nearby Leithaprodersdorf.

Updated: February 07, 2022, 4:30 PM