Electric Power Industry: The beginnings of the Austrian electricity industry date back to 1873, when a direct current generator supplied the Krupp factory in Berndorf (Lower Austria) with electric energy for the first time; in 1878 the first arc lamps lighted the rink of the Vienna Ice Skating Club, in 1883 the Suedbahngesellschaft railway company started the first 120-kW generator in Moedling, and the first public electricity supply company started supplying the town of Scheibbs (Lower Austria) in 1886. These pioneering achievements were followed by the rapid development of local power stations. In 1914 there were 350 power plants in present Austrian territory (in line with natural conditions, steam power plants in the eastern part of the country and hydroelectric power plants in the West and South). In 1959, there were more than 2,050 plants generating more than 10 kW each and owned by about 1,100 companies; about 500 of these companies operating 1,000 plants with a capacity of 200 kW and over, supplied 99% of total electric energy. During World War I the country was faced with difficulties in supplying coal, which promoted the systematic development of water power, which was plentiful in Austria. After Austria lost its coal-fields in 1918, the construction of hydroelectric power-plants had to be promoted even faster. Between 1918 and 1933 the total output of the hydraulic generation plants increased from 240 MW to 725 MW. Between 1920 and 1930 the first 110 kV power lines linked Styria and Upper Austria with Vienna. The power plants built between 1938 and 1945 were mainly designed to serve the south-north connection with Germany; however, most of them were destroyed during World War II.
Until Austria's accession to the EU, the organisation of electricity supply in Austria was based on the 2nd Nationalisation Act of 1947. Under this Act the Austrian electricity industry was responsible for ensuring the supply of customers with sufficient electric energy at reasonable cost. Companies whose output was below 200 kW and all those in-plant generating stations whose annual delivery to outside consumers was below 100,000 kWh were not subject to nationalisation.
The implementation of the Elektrizitaetswirt. und Organsiationsgesetz (EIWOG, Electronics Industry Organisation Act) in 1999 saw the beginning of the liberalisation of the electricity market in Austria as had been envisaged by the EU. This enabled an increasing number of customers (e.g. major industrial consumers) to access electricity from other suppliers than those of the area where they are located; customers from abroad are thus also able to purchase electricity from Austria.
Administration and management are largely the domain of the Verbundkonzern, which operates at supra-regional level. It distributes electric power all over the country and makes sure that production and demand are balanced. Each provincial company is responsible for regional power supply. These companies deliver power to their customers directly or supply public or privately owned electricity companies throughout the province and operate the network of power lines in their service area. Most of them also generate electric power in their own power-plants. These provincial companies are: BEWAG (Burgenland Elektrizitaets-AG), Energie AG Oberoesterreich, EVN AG (Lower Austria), KELAG (Kaernten Elektrizitaets-AG), SAFE (Salzburg AG fuer Energiewirtschaft), STEWEAG (Steirische Wasserkraft- und Elektrizitaets-AG), TIWAG (Tiroler Wasserkraftwerke-AG), VKW (Vorarlberger Kraftwerke-AG), Wienstrom.
In addition, there are 5 electricity companies which are owned and operated by provincial capitals (municipal power stations in Graz, Innsbruck, Klagenfurt, Linz and Salzburg); as well as over 100 local, co-operative and private power companies.
Two thirds of Austria´s electric energy demand is covered by hydroelectric power plants, i.e. by run-of-river plants on Austria´s numerous rivers (in particular the River Danube; Donaukraft, Ennskraft, Draukraftwerke AG) and by the storage power stations in the Alpine regions ( Tauernkraftwerke AG, Draukraft etc.). The rest of the demand is covered by thermal power plants and by imports. The share of electric energy in total power consumption in Austria is 20 %. Between 1970 and 1998 the generation of current more than doubled, from 27,128 GWh to 56,599 GWh (1 GWh = 1 million kWh).
Since the late 1980s research has gained increasing importance in the electricity industry. This development led in 1991 to the foundation of Energieforschungsgemeinschaft (EFG - Energy Research Group) within the Association of Austrian Power Plants. This group is committed to developing future-oriented energy technologies, promoting recyclable energy and innovative methods of more efficient energy use, and studying the environmental, social, legal and economic aspects of energy production and use. For this purpose, it co-operates with universities and research centres at national and international level.
Its main fields of activity are photovoltaics (solar energy), wind energy and the use of biomass. Various groups of experts are dealing with "Integrated Resource Planning", the aim being to develop efficient and environmentally benign forms of energy use.
Until 1999, the Prices and Tariffs Act laid down the principles for fixing electricity tariffs in Austria. Usually the Verbundkonzern (Austria´s electricity association) submitted a proposal to the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs, which subjected it to a preliminary scrutiny in which statutory interest groups participated. The proposal was then submitted to the Price Commission for study and the result promulgated by the Ministry of Economic Affairs as an administrative decision stipulating the price of electric power (usually a maximum price). The law of 1999 (EIWOG) constitutes the step toward liberalising electricity prices, which mainly affects the provincial supply companies. Further liberalisation measures have been planned for the near future.