A court in Leon at the start of June ordered a director of Enel Green Power to provide a EUR1 million surety to cover any eventual liability for the impact of the Italian firm's San Feliz wind farm on a protected bird habitat.
According to the complainant, environmental group SEO-Birdlife, the requirement on a developer to provide a financial guarantee is unprecedented in a case relating to environmental protection.
This judgment followed a local court in the Lleida province of Catalonia in May ordering developer and manufacturer Acciona to dismantle 25 of its generators in the Serra de Tallat wind farm in Lleida because its site was not designated for industrial development.
The 49.5MW project, which has been operating since 2007, uses 33 Acciona 1.5MW turbines. The presiding judge agreed with the complainants, local environmental group IPCENA, that the permission given by the local council of Vallbona de les Monges to build the wind farm was invalid given that the site was not designated for industrial use in the municipal plan.
The remaining eight turbines belong to a different municipality and are not affected.
Acciona has said it will appeal but, if the Catalan high court upholds the verdict, it will become the first Spanish generator obliged to dismantle a functioning wind farm. It may not be the last, however, as many municipalities are known to have authorised wind farms in similar circumstances.
Days after the Lleida judgment, the Spanish Supreme Court ordered construction work on the Salce wind farm in Leon to stop. Importantly, its decision tightens the criteria that courts will have to apply when deciding whether an environmental impact assessment has been adequately carried out. In future, courts will be prepared to halt wind power (or other infrastructure) projects that fail to carry out adequate assessments without requiring financial surety from complainants, says SEO-Birdlife.
SEO is expecting further court judgments this year on 11 projected wind farms in Leon and 15 in the province of Soria, nine of which have already been built. In all cases, the environmental group has alleged unacceptable impact on protected species.
"Local authorities, not developers, are principally responsible for these problems because they haven't adequately carried out their responsibility to protect the environment," says Juan Carlos Atienza, SEO's director of conservation.
"Spain still has sites in which to install many megawatts with no environmental complications and with adequate wind."
Spanish wind power industry association AEE says it has been surprised by the severity of recent judgments.
"We want things done properly, but we have gone from a situation where controls were too lax to the opposite," says an AEE spokesman. "There needs to be a balance."
SEO denies its attitude towards wind generation has turned negative. Sentences are coming through now because the NGO only started taking cases against wind farms to court in 2008, after attempts at consultation failed, says Atienza.
"We are not against renewable energy," he adds. "Following the recent court judgments promoters are now more interested in collaborating with us."