In March 2021, the government presented its final version of the Renewable Energy Expansion Act (Erneuerbaren-Ausbau-Gesetz, "REEA") aimed at reshaping the Austrian legal framework on renewable energy generation, distribution, and consumption. The Austrian government aims for the final version of the act to enter into force in the first half of 2021, provided it achieves the necessary parliamentary approval.
As outlined in our recent feature article on the ministerial draft of the REEA, so-called “energy communities” will be a main pillar of Austria’s attempt to achieve the European climate targets. In a nutshell, energy communities, namely (i) renewable energy communities (Erneuerbare Energiegemeinschaften, "RECs") and (ii) citizen energy communities (Bürgerenergiegemeinschaften, "CECs"), are non-profit-orientated legal entities intended to decentralise the generation, distribution, and consumption of renewable energy mainly for the public benefit.
With the final version of the REEA, the Austrian government proposed certain significant changes to the September 2020 ministerial draft, intended to bring energy communities closer to fruition.
INCREASED NUMBER OF INVOLVED STAKEHOLDERS
The proposed final version of the REEA now excludes condominium communities (Wohnungseigentumsgemeinschaften) themselves – but not their members – from establishing or participating in a REC but expands the range of potential participants to (other) legal entities under public law, therefore enabling public institutions to participate and benefit from a nearby REC. Furthermore, the proposed final version of the REEA now explicitly enables certain renewable energy generators to participate in a REC.
According to the REEA legislative materials, the amendment on (local) renewable energy generators is specifically designed to encourage the participation of wind farms, hydroelectric power plants and larger-scale photovoltaic projects.
PERMISSIBLE CONTRACTING AND LEASING
The Austrian government has now clarified that renewable energy generation facilities included in a REC or a CEC can either be owned by the energy community itself, its members or by third parties. This means that “contracting” or “leasing” models are now explicitly permissible.
AMENDED CORPORATE REQUIREMENTS
Energy communities are in principle established as independent legal entities, such as private associations (Vereine), partnerships, limited liability companies, stock corporations, or any other legal form with legal personality. The REEA legislative materials now stipulate that distribution system operators of the REC’s or the CEC’s concession areas shall only be provided with the information (and changes thereto) necessary for metering and billing. To this end, the proposed final version of the REEA limits the rules that must be included in the respective REC’s or CEC’s foundation documents, which shall facilitate the (corporate) foundation and operation of energy communities.
IMPROVED PUBLIC FUNDING AND FINANCIAL BENEFITS
The proposed final version of the REEA also includes significant improvements to the scope and extent of public funding and subsidies for the generation of renewable energy. The REEA’s public funding and subsidies will be centrally organised and allocated by a newly established agency (the EAG-Förderabwicklungsstelle). RECs (not CECs) will, inter alia, continue to be subject to a reduced grid fee (Ortstarif) and be exempted from the Austrian electricity duty.
These improvements to the public funding and subsidies for Austrian renewable energy sources may significantly encourage the acquisition and installation of even more renewable energy generation facilities for their potential participation in RECs or CECs.
Given the rather broad scope of the proposed rules on energy communities, the proposed new law leaves room for shaping its practical implementation. With the latest version of the REEA, the envisaged energy communities regime in Austria has moved closer to the requirements imposed by practice. And it is only in practice that the actual implementation and effectiveness of the rules can be sought.
Read the full version of this article here.