The Austrian government has invited the country‚s main electricity producers to a forum next week to urge them to merge their hydro power activities.VIENNA, Austria 2002-02-15 [SolarAccess.com] Austrian politicians this week sharply criticized a planned hydro power joint-venture between Austrian state-controlled utility Verbund and German power giant E.ON, calling for a formation of an all-Austrian hydroelectric power producer in an effort to ensure control of hydro power remains in the country. Economics Minister Martin Bartenstein said that the door was open for Austria’s nine regional utilities and Verbund to discuss the possibility of merging their hydroelectric power plants to form Europe’s second biggest producer. “There is a better chance than ever before for an Austrian power solution,” Bartenstein said. Bartenstein said the talks would not necessarily affect the Verbund-E.ON deal, adding that it would even be possible for an Austrian hydroelectric power consortium to find a European partner. However some Austrian provincial governors said last week they strongly opposed the partnership with E.ON, to be called European Hydro Power (EHP) and based in Austria. “If we have pure hydro power in Austria, then sell that pure hydro power abroad, and end up having to import nuclear power, then it’s wrong,” Burgenland Governor Hans Niessl said. Both Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel and President Thomas Klestil called for an “Austrian solution”, arguing that the EHP joint venture could lead to a sell-out of Austria’s environmentally friendly hydroelectric power resources. Austria produces around 70 percent of its energy from hydro electricity, exploiting the Danube, Lake Constance and the mountainous country’s abundance of waterfalls to power a network of some 4,000 hydroelectric plants. Some environmentalists say EHP, which would be majority owned by Verbund, would allow E.ON to take more “green” energy from the venture than it would provide, forcing Austria to cover the shortfall with imports from “dirty” sources.