According to the Directorate General for Energy and Geology, only 162MW of new wind power was licensed in the country during the first six months of this year, significantly lower than the 509MW in the same period last year and the lowest volume licensed in any first half of the past eight years.
The drop has been caused by delays in gaining approval for Environmental Impact Studies (EIS). In order to be licensed, wind farms must receive approval from Portugal's Ministry of Environment. During the last five years, the ministry has approved 85 out of the 92 EIS submissions for wind farms, equating to 2.4GW of power.
A major increase in project approval took place between 2007 and 2008, when 17 and 18 projects were approved, respectively. Since then, however, the pace has slowed. The president of Portugal's Renewable Energy Association (APREN), Antonio Sa da Costa, is unconcerned about the fall in licensed power in the first half of 2010, describing it as normal and adding that the difficulty of environmental licensing faced by various wind developers inevitably leads to delays.
However, a lack of suitable sites and increasing environmental concerns are affecting the government's ambitious plans for the expansion of wind energy. In March, experts criticised the government's National Energy Strategy target of reaching 8.5GW of installed wind power by 2020 as unachievable, citing the lack of suitable locations for wind farms. By June, the government had reduced the target to 6.6GW in its National Renewable Energy Action Plan.
Meanwhile, environmentalists are arguing that the government should invest in a variety of energy sources to reduce the environmental impact of wind farms.
Studies by Portuguese environmental association Quercus indicate that Portugal will not reach its target of 31% renewable energy generation by 2020. According to Quercus's Ana Rita Antunes: "This is good news, as Quercus hopes the target will be never achieved in order not to harm protected areas in Portugal."
The organisation has warned that the expansion of wind turbines in the protected areas of Marao and Alvao national park, and the existing wind park in Sico-Alvaiazere, Leiria would negatively affect the preservation of both the Iberian wolves and bats.
Although Quercus agrees with the development of wind energy, it believes wind farms should be sited outside conservation areas in places that are not often considered by project developers due to lower wind speeds.