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The regional government of Galicia in northwestern Spain handed out licenses for 2550 MW of wind power development last month, paving the way for the rugged region's emergence as possibly the biggest wind power site in Europe. Officials at Gestenga, the organisation set up by the Galician government to manage wind power development in the 29,500 square kilometre region, said the licenses had been awarded to ten companies -- foreign and domestic -- and more would be handed out in the future until the region's estimated 5600 MW ceiling is reached.

Gestenga's managing director, Manuel Lara, says 1040 MW has been awarded to Spanish companies, 790 MW to foreigners and 720 MW to organisations with mixed foreign and Spanish capital. Not one applicant had been cut out in the process. "We have tried to be as fair as possible although it is inevitable that there will be some disappointments," he says.

some did very well

This will certainly not be the case for three lucky applicants. Spain's state-run utility offshoot, Endesa/Made, was awarded 100% of the 244 MW it had put in for; US developer SeaWest, using Bonus turbines from Denmark, got 525.30 MW of its requested 805 MW; and the Spanish power company Union Fenosa got 384 MW of its initial goal of 440 MW.

Among those faring not so well was Spanish Ecotècnia which won just 98 MW of 250 MW, while Danish Nordtank drew the shortest straw, obtaining just 75 MW of the 515 MW it had requested. "Let's say we are not ecstatic with the handout," comments Antonio Mart’nez, Ecotècnia's president.

To compete for this first lot of Galician wind power licences the companies bidding for the right to set up wind projects were asked to hand in what Gestenga called a "strategic wind power plan." What the authorities were looking for was a commitment by companies to establish manufacturing facilities in Galicia, or at least "buy Galician," with the aim of generating employment in the region. According to Lara, the companies offering the best benefits for the local population won the most megawatts. "As simple as that. So you can see from the amount of capacity granted just how committed each company was to the Galician project," he says.

The announcement by Gestenga on December 8, coming after months of tense anticipation, is considered big news in Spain within the wind power fraternity. Wind companies in and outside Spain have been vying for a piece of the Galician cake since late 1993, in some cases employing cut-throat tactics to obtain the best parcels of land. With payment for wind produced kilowatt hours set by government at a healthy ESP 12.37/kWh (the price to consumers is over ESP 14/kWh) across the whole country, the windiest regions hold good potential for profit.

With excellent wind speeds, vast -- often uninhabited -- open spaces and a declared 5000 MW potential, the region has long been touted as one of the world's best locations for wind power development. But unlike other areas of Spain, the regional government demanded a say in the granting of licenses almost from the start. It was afraid that Galicia could develop into a European version of Altamont Pass in California -- often likened to a wind turbine jungle -- symptoms of which have already been detected in Tarifa in the south.

the next stage

"This is why Gestenga was set up and a policy of compensatory measures established alongside other considerations such as the environment," says Lara. "We did not want to follow the Tarifa model where they have not even finished their wind farm development plan for the region but have already got 90 MW of power installed."

With the first hurdle in Galicia cleared, developers now holding a stake in the province's wind power development will have to prepare for the next barriers: negotiating with town halls, presenting environmental impact reports, securing financing, obtaining purchase contracts and ensuring grid connection.

Lara, believes, however that all 2550 MW will be in the ground by the year 2005. "Endesa has scheduled to have their 244 MW completed by the year 2000, while Vestas/Gamesa has its sights set on the year 2005," he says.

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