Andalucia action to free bottleneck -- Solving grid capacity shortages

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Renewed political support for wind in Andalucia promises to hurl Spain's wind pioneering region back onto the industry map following years of stagnation. First, a grid improvement plan aims to feed 2700 MW of wind power into the system for 2006, on the way to a regional target of 4000 MW by 2010. Second, the Andalucian government is demanding that project developers co-ordinate their grid connection needs and back their connection applications with deposits.

Projects with an estimated combined capacity of 20,000 MW are caught in Andalucia's grid bottleneck. The government's grid plan, Plan Energético de Andalucia (PLEAN), and its demand that developers work together on planning and financing interconnection structure, are steps on the way to shaping up a shortlist of contenders for further development. The grid is controlled by national operator Red Electrica de España (REE) and distributor Sevillana, who have agreed to fast-track grid improvements under PLEAN.

The developers of around 1000 MW of wind projects in each of the provinces of Cadiz, Malaga, and Granada are expected to negotiate priorities for grid access, according to Jose Manuel Torres of regional energy agency Sodean. Some die-hard developers have stuck out the connection battle for as long as five years, often forming their own local committees to jointly tackle the grid problem (Windpower Monthly, November 2001). Many of their efforts could now prove to have been largely in vain as the new regulation imposes a fresh start. Torres thinks the new negotiating committees stimulated by government will smooth the way.

The former regulation, he says, made it impossible for the grid to turn down project applications or define connection priorities, thus exacerbating the bottleneck and bringing Andalucian wind to an almost complete standstill. Torres also points out that the deposits to enter the negotiating committees, set at EUR 20,000 for each megawatt planned, will dispense with a large number of speculator applications.

Back door politics

Projects enter the negotiating committees within their geographical interconnection zones. If developers, together with REE and Sevillana, fail to define a list of priority projects within a period of ten days after the first meeting then the Junta will intercede and draw up priorities itself. Many developers think it unlikely that agreements will be reached without intervention and some interpret this clause as a way for the government to let in its own "favourites" through the back door, such as those with plans for major investment in local economies.

With the Andalucian government determined to start the process immediately, developers will soon see for themselves whether or not favouritism has been at play. Following publication of project lists, priority projects will be approved when further procedures, such as environmental assessments, are complete. Most mature projects will already be at that stage, so grid capacity will determine whether building can go ahead -- and just how much investment neighbouring developers need pool in order to finance grid improvements.

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