How a small town in the South Burgenland became an energy Mecca

The Miracle of Güssing

How a small town in the South Burgenland became an energy Mecca – with good ideas, new technology and support from the company Parador.

“When can we see the power station?” The lady from Nicaragua hops impatiently from one foot to the other. She is just as assiduously ignored by her well-versed guide as her colleagues. Reinhard Koch, Managing Director of the European Centre for Renewable Energy (EEE), is used to impatient visitors: “There, where you are standing now, I was talking to the prime minister of the Cook Islands just last week – and the week before with a couple of people from MIT.” Reinhard Koch gives another winning smile to the small group of inquisitive female energy specialists from Central America, whom he is guiding through his institute: »Even the delegates from Cambridge University were impressed by our site – so much that they called Güssing ‘Eco Mecca’. That made us really quite proud – after all, there can only be one Mecca.” “Mister Biomass”, as the engineer and managing director of the EEE likes to be called, is rightly proud of his facility: in the place where Koch is now working on new energy concepts with over 140 employees, fifteen years ago there was nothing. And next to this nothing was Güssing – a typical small town in the picturesque but extremely poor Burgenland. A brass band, one café with the lovely name Mocca, the small cinema is closed in the summer months. Motorway? Railway station? Nowhere to be seen. The past was proudly and mightily heralded in the form of a ruined castle, perched on a volcanic cone overlooking the whole village as if to show how tiny it is; built in 1157. The future seemed strangely alien to the little town. »Back then we asked ourselves what the inhabitants of our district spend the most money on. On energy!« That was in 1998. Back then Koch, at this point the municipal technical director, came up with the »Eco Energy Land Plan«, with which he turned Güssing and the surrounding area into a showcase location for renewable energy. He was responsible for the construction of the biggest biomass power station in the world – and in one fell swoop catapulted his home town into a completely new millennium.
 

Sustainability in Güssing is much more than mere lip service
 

 
About two years later, Parador was looking for a new site for the company's real wood production. “In Güssing we were simply given the best conditions over the long term. They understood here even then that profitability and sustainability are not mutually exclusive, that they go hand in hand with each other,” says Volkmar Halbe, chairman of the Parador management board. The modern Parador production facilities are within sight of the EEE. Hardly any of the many groups of visitors from all over the world, who visit the EEE, come without making a brief stop at the factory. After all, Parador is now the town's biggest private employer – with increasing success: 300,000 square metres of natural flooring were produced in 2002, and today it is 2.5 million. As if to prove that Parador really is an important pillar of the energy concept in Güssing, Egon Marin, manager of the Parador plant in Güssing, taps on a small, unassuming looking pipe.

“Wood chips, sanding dust and sawdust is sent through this high pressure pipe straight to the Güssing biomass power station.” Besides the more than modern district heating plants, besides the thirteen smaller biogas, bioelectricity and photovoltaic facilities in Güssing and the surrounding area, the biomass power station is the reason why thousands of people from all God's countries come to visit a place that cannot even be reached by a motorway: in an ultramodern process, wood is gasified without air and by adding steam. This results in a low nitrogen, high quality product gas, which is used to generate heat and power, synthetic natural gas and fuel. This means that everyone living in Güssing, its entire industry plus the hospital, can be locally supplied with energy at the lowest prices. Excess electricity is sold, which is extremely beneficial to the community – its own first division basketball team, an ambitious program of cultural events and particularly low unemployment figures are proof of the success.
 


Thanks to Parador, Güssing and the surrounding area is an autonomous energy region


Frantic activity reigns in the mayor of Güssing's office. Even though the group of visitors is not also being channelled to Peter Vadasz from the Austrian People's Party, whose idea it was to make Güssing into an eco pioneer land. Whilst the small crowd of people makes do with a brass band in the market square, the energetic man scurries hectically through his mayor's office like Asterix just before the final battle against the Romans. “Our model can even work in Dubai,” says Vadasz for the record. “After all, biomass is everywhere!” With the same technology that is used in Güssing to gasify wood, he reckons you could turn waste, clover, simply anything into energy. “The technology is really ground-breaking. On average we travel once a month around the world and give advice to those who have expressed a new interest.” Since Fukushima, demand has risen again extremely, he says. “Nobody wants to be dependent on destructive nuclear energy, and just as few on the limited resources of crude oil and natural gas.” And whilst the telephone rings once again in the background, outside the brass band pack up their instruments: a perfectly normal day with a perfectly normal tour through a small village on the edge of Europe comes to an end – a village that became a leader in sustainability thanks to a good idea and the support of Parador. The lady from Nicaragua liked the tour. “Only a basketball team,” she says with a slight grin, “we don't need that in my home town.” Then she steps onto a bus and her friendly face gets smaller and smaller, until it disappears for ever in the twisting bends of the Burgenland.