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Spain

INVESTORS FORCED TO LOOK OVERSEAS

Small investors seem reluctant to get involved in the Spanish wind business, according to Transformadora Racional de Energia Natural SA (TREN), which co-ordinates investment in wind power. If TREN fails to get its proposed deal through at the experimental site at the Tarifa wind farm, it may pull out of wind projects in Spain altogether and concentrate on overseas markets.

Small-time Spanish investors seeking to profit from the boom in wind power in Spain have been forced to explore the market overseas after being given a dispassionate welcome on their home turf. The seemingly bizarre situation comes at a time when the Spanish wind market is taking off in a big way.

"It's not what we expected," says Joaquim Corominas, the general manager of Transformadora Racional de Energia Natural S.A., (TREN), which in Spain is co-ordinating investment opportunities in wind power. "We have got the financial backing but not much interest from Spanish developers, manufacturers or utilities. We thought the reverse would be true."

In the face of the poor response in Spain, TREN has turned its attention overseas and is currently negotiating with wind power promoters in Britain, Holland and Germany. One of the most likely deals could result from the British government's next round of Non Fossil Fuel Obligation (NFFO) contracts for renewable energy. According to Corominas, the deal could come to fruition before long.

TREN, based in Catalonian-based, was formed in 1992. It was born of an almost idealistic faith in the need to turn to alternative forms of power production in the face of growing environmental proof that conventional systems were poisoning the atmosphere. Driven by the sharp, business acumen the Catalans are famous for, the company aimed to attract small time, environmentally aware investors who were willing to put their money into medium term projects in the alternative and renewable fields.

With ESP 10 million in starting capital -- supplied by a mixed group of 33 private investors from grassroots environmentalists to businessmen -- TREN planned to go public once a viable project was identified. In the case of wind power, the company's target was to site individual turbines at proven locations and profit on electricity production.

"But after several attempts the overall response has been poor. Despite investor interest and sufficient financial backing to start shopping around for turbines and sites to place them, nobody seemed prepared to share out a piece of the cake to a small operation like ours," says Corominas. "I think the idea of putting up a single turbine in the 150-200 kW range, as we initially planned, did not seem financially attractive to Spanish companies and developers contacted by us," he adds. "In some cases, we were told that the project wasn't big enough. Other deals fell through because of technical problems. Overall, there wasn't much enthusiasm. We might have just as well put the money in a bank."

Corominas believes that the overall outlook of Spanish companies is to blame. "Spain now has the technical know how, the legislation required to make wind power a viable commodity and the political backing, but unlike foreign firms, Spanish organisations, both public and private, tend to harbour conservative business policies. Then, of course, there is a general protectionist attitude towards the market."

An eleventh hour bid by TREND to get some joy out of the Spanish wind market is currently underway at an experimental site at the large Tarifa wind farm in southern Spain. There, the company hopes to site a turbine purchased from the Barcelona-based wind company, Ecotècnia, and connect it to the regional grid managed by the Sevillana S.A. power company.

"We'll know within a couple of months whether or not the deal will come through, but unless we get it off the ground within the next couple of months, we are seriously thinking of pulling out of wind power projects in Spain and concentrating on the market overseas," says Corominas.

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