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Spain

Spain

INAUGURATION DEBACLE AT TARIFA

The September 26 opening ceremony of Kenetech's "KW Tarifa" 30 MW farm in southern Spain is likely to be remembered as a major embarrassment. High-ranking Spanish officials boycotted the event outright, scuffles broke out between Kenetech's security guards and protesters and a verbal reprimand was voiced by the head of the local police force.

It certainly won't go down in the annals of wind power history as one of the industry's greatest inaugurations. Indeed, the September 26 opening ceremony of Kenetech's "KW Tarifa" 30 MW farm in southern Spain is more likely to be remembered as a major embarrassment. High-ranking Spanish officials boycotted the event outright, scuffles broke out between Kenetech's security guards and protesters and a verbal reprimand was voiced by the head of the local police force. And it was all reported by the local press under banner headlines, much to the delight of Kenetech's competitors.

The trouble began when local security guards hired by the US company refused access to environmentalists wishing to hand a letter of complaint to the President of the County Council, Rafael Roman, who had been invited to the opening at the wind farm site. Ironically, the protesters were not targeting Kenetech, wind power, or the company's controversial history in Tarifa, but work on an underwater power cable linking Spain and Morocco. The cable runs through Tarifa which has sparked months of protests. By handing the letter personally to Roman, the protesters hoped to reinforce their statement concerning the cable as a potential health-hazard.

On being refused access to the Kenetech compound, the protesters complained to the local mayor, Jose Fuentes Pacheco, as he arrived for the inauguration. He demanded and obtained permission for a representative of the 50 odd demonstrators to be allowed access to the wind farm to hand in his letter of protest. "As I talked to Mr. Roman, Ignacio Vendrell, Kenetech's press man in Spain, harassed me all the time, trying to get me to leave," said Antonio Vergara, a respected environmentalist and member of the regional association for nature protection, AGADEN. "When I went over to two representatives of the press to give them copies of our protest letter, Vendrell ripped them out of my hands and screwed them up in a ball."

In the scuffle that followed, Vergara and a communist town councillor were manhandled by the security guards, requiring the intervention of the mayor and several other town councillors to stop the fracas developing into something more serious. As a result, the mayor decided to leave before the inauguration began, followed by his town councillors. The two big shots invited to the ceremony -- the provincial representative for Industry and Tourism, Salvador de la Encina, and the President of the Provincial Council, Roman -- followed suit. "Bad manners and disrespect for the local authorities" is how Roman later described the incident.

As events at the inauguration ceremony snowballed out of Kenetech's control, the ribbon cutting ceremony was finished off by company president Gerald Alderson. That might have been the end of the matter had not the town hall's police chief made his appearance just as the remaining guests were tucking into wine and hors d'oeuvres. Warning Kenetech's spokesmen, Bud Grebey and Vendrell, that it is against the law to deploy private security men on public land -- the wind farm is sited in a municipal area -- he told them to get the black uniformed guards behind the barb wired-topped enclosure surrounding the development's offices and warehouse.

Neither did it end there. On realising that a planned luncheon at the nearby restaurant, Don Sancho, was likely to be embarrassingly devoid of the officials they had invited, members of KW Tarifa's board of directors motored to the town hall to present their apologies. These were accepted, but the invitation to lunch was turned down. The mayor, said one witness, was irate and fully supportive of the environmentalists' right to peacefully demonstrate on public land.

Kenetech's press representative, Vendrell, refuses to comment on the events. "We made a policy decision not to enter into a debate over the issue. We were surprised, though, that the journalists involved did not ask us for our opinion and we certainly thought that our apology delivered personally at the town hall sufficed. Only two newspapers reported on it [the confrontation]. We are not interested in controversy. We just want to sell clean energy."

Currently, the local town hall is debating whether or not to lodge an official complaint.

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