Legal ruling holds up Catalan wind plans

SPAIN: The Catalan government's aim to reach 3.5GW of installed wind capacity in the region by 2015 has been thrown into question by a surprise court decision halting the most recent phase of the plan.

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The Catalan high court ordered a suspension at the end of February, citing the regional government's failure to carry out a strategic environmental assessment (SEA).

Infrastructure plans and programmes in several areas including energy must undergo such an assessment of their impact on the environment under a 2001 EU directive.

The administration has appealed against the decision but, if the appeal fails, the case could take two to three years to resolve.

The legal argument centres on projects worth EUR1.2 billion, involving the addition of 769MW wind power capacity in seven priority development zones (ZDPs) which the Catalan government awarded to four consortia in October.

Battle lines

The Catalan government argues that it first proposed developing the zones in 2002, before the requirement for SEAs came into force. It also claims that the projects do not technically constitute a plan and are therefore not liable to strategic assessment.

Opposing the government in court is IAEDEN, a small, locally based environmental group that is fighting projects sited on an important bird migration route in the Alt Emporda region of the Pyrenees. Spokeswoman Barbara Schmitt says the organisation supports wind energy but objects to the lack of public consultation and to a wind power development model that favours large companies.

Catalan wind power industry organisation EolicCat fears that a prolonged delay in the development of the ZDPs could have a knock-on effect on the timely implementation of the whole Catalan wind power plan.

Apart from the 769MW under dispute in the courts, there is a further 2GW of capacity due to be installed by 2015. According to EolicCat spokesman Jaume Morron, 1GW already has authorisation and connections to the grid, 700MW has passed the stage of public consultation and is awaiting official authorisation, and a further 300MW is to be developed as small-scale projects.

The banks and developers could begin to have doubts about the viability of all of the projects because many of them depend on development of the ZDPs to become connected to the grid, Morron explains. Although the ZDP projects are not scheduled to be built before 2013, he says: "We need a solution quickly to give investors the legal assurance that their investments are safe."

Recent moves by the Spanish government to reduce the public-sector deficit by cutting back on premium tariffs paid to renewables producers, particularly in the photovoltaic sector, has already knocked investor confidence in the whole Spanish renewables market, Morron says.

Comsa Emte Energias Renovables, partner in a consortium that won a contract to build two wind farms in a ZDP in southern Catalonia, says that the finance for its projects is not finalised and that the court suspension could present a problem. "We will be closely watching developments and how they affect our projects," says a spokesman.

Catalonia has lagged behind other regions in developing its wind power potential. It accounts for less than 1GW of Spain's total installed capacity of 20.7GW. Morron blames this on a lack of infrastructure capacity and a fundamental lack of vision by past regional administrations.

Morron is however hopeful that the new Catalan government, elected at the end of 2010, is fully behind the wind power plan and will take the measures needed to resolve the legal impasse. Nonetheless, he says: "I see achieving the 3.5GW target for 2015 as very difficult."

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