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Spain

Transmission being built at long last -- Catalonia take-off

After long years struggling against gridlock, wind developers in Spain's north-eastern region of Catalonia have received permits to build four dedicated power lines stretching more than 200 kilometres. Regional wind association EolicCat now expects Catalonian wind power to reach 1500-2000 MW by the end of 2010, up from 347 MW today. The new lines follow approval by the pro-wind regional government, the Generalitat, of an energy plan to 2015 targeting a minimum of 3000 MW of cumulative wind capacity. Since then, the EU has backed an obligatory 20% renewables objective, putting upward pressure on wind targets in all Spanish regions. EolicCat now expects the Generalitat to raise its sights to at least 4000 MW to 2015.

Mounting pressure by the Generalitat on Catalonia's power system operators to free available grid space for wind power saw 122.14 MW of new wind capacity connected last year. "Everything points to the beginning of take-off after the years of false starts following Catalonia's wind power pioneering efforts in the early 1990's," says EolicCat's Ramón Carbonell.

Wind turbine manufacturers Vestas, Alstom-Ecotècnia and Nordex all operate from national headquarters in the region. Developers in Caralonia include heavyweights like Iberdrola and Acciona Energía, which has already sponsored 57% of the region's wind power after connection last year of the Serra del Tallat (49.5 MW) and Serra de Vilobí (40.5 MW) developments in Lerida province, bringing its regional total to 193 MW.

Homage

For Carbonell, the upturn is only fair return for Catalonia's pioneering efforts. In 1990, the region started up one of Europe's first commercial-scale wind plants outside Denmark: the 660 kW Roses development in Gerona. In 1997, the Generalitat produced Spain's first detailed wind atlas, followed by successive wind development siting maps. Yet national system operator Red Eléctrica de España (REE) and local distributor Fecsa have repeatedly and systematically refused connection permits, citing local grid saturation. Consequently, over 3000 MW of wind projects have been waiting in the wings, more than half with planning permission.

Meantime, the region has been gasping for electricity as the Spanish economy grows, not helped by a drought which has brought its hydroelectric resources to a record low. Catalonia is already Spain's most industrial region, accounting for 20% of national power consumption. Last year, saturated power lines provoked a major blackout, leaving REE and Fecsa blaming each other.

The blackout, coupled with pressure from the Generalitat, forced agreement late last year on the four new lines, providing interconnection for a total of 1390 MW of new wind capacity. The project emulates experience in other regions, where wind developers have pooled resources to pay for shared infrastructures. Staggered completion is scheduled over 2009-2010.

The lines will be hung across three main areas: the high land area of Lérida and Tarragona, both in the River Ebro basin, and Alt Empordá in the north-east of the region. The Generalitat is also pushing for piecemeal grid improvements elsewhere, freeing up further capacity. With wind and gas providing the only two significant sources of new power generation, "Wind is more than ready to put up more new lines to help plug the power gap," says Carbonell.

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