BUCHAREST Romania's plan to change generous subsidies for renewable energy is unlikely to deter investors in wind energy, despite heightened uncertainty over project financing.
The plan to tone down green energy support -- key to attracting billions of euros to wind -- is still pending approval from the European Commission, which says it may overcompensate developers.
The proposed changes include the possibility of cutting support if a green project becomes too profitable, causing market jitters that the unpredictability will scare away financial backers.
But industry participants say the changes are still a long way off and the promise of high returns still holds, unlike in Bulgaria, where the government has changed its obligatory purchase of green electricity at high, fixed prices.
"There will be cases of investors abandoning projects in Bulgaria and moving elsewhere in the region, but right now interest remains in developing wind energy in Romania," said Joanna Kozak of brokers Greenmax Capital Advisors.
"Of course, an unpredictable legal framework does not help. Investors are interested, but the availability of the financing is now the key question."
Other changes in Romania's subsidies scheme cut the number of green certificates for technologies like biomass and make renewables' access to the power grid guaranteed but no longer a first priority.
"For wind energy the number of green certificates remains unchanged," Adrian Borotea, a director at CEZ in Romania told local television. "We think that all the other problems are things we can overcome."
Czech power group CEZ has halfway finished building Europe's largest onshore wind park in the dusty Dobrogea region in southeastern Romania, a 1.1 billion euros projects.
Other power firms are developing wind energy projects in Romania, including Italy's Enel, Spain's Iberdrola and Energias de Portugal.
Dozens of Austrian, Spanish, U.S. and German firms have also rushed to build new wind and solar energy plants in Bulgaria, threatening to overwhelm its outdated grid.
In addition to good, steady wind, analysts said Romania has other advantages, including a potentially lucrative market of some 22 million people and expected power price increases as the government needs to liberalize its energy markets by 2015.
Once approved by the EU, Romania's support scheme would give wind power developers two green certificates for every megawatt hour of electricity they produce until 2017, while suppliers must get an increasing percentage of the power they sell from renewable energy and buy certificates to meet these targets.
Wind power developers gain once by selling the certificates, worth between 27 and 55 euros each to power providers, and again when they sell the electricity produced -- something experts say may not be sustainable.
"I am not sure to which extent Romania will be financially able to maintain this," said Aleksandar Kovacevic of the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies. "Romania should still be attractive without it because it has very good winds."
Elsewhere in Europe, the Czech Republic, Spain and Italy have cut support sharply to protect tight budgets and consumers worried over price hikes.
Romania's energy regulator ANRE estimates the overall renewable support scheme will cost 10.5 billion euros over 10 years and add up to 33 euros per megawatt to prices by 2017.
Romania jumped from 14 megawatts of installed wind energy at the end of 2009 to 462 megawatts at the end of last year, overtaking Bulgaria but still behind regional leader Poland, and should have some 4,000 megawatts by 2020.
"It's possible that later we won't need this support scheme," said Maria Manicuta, a director at energy regulator ANRE. "But for now I don't think we could have attracted investment without it."
(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by William Hardy)