Strategy unveiled in face of protest -- Basque country fight

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In the midst of fierce local opposition to wind power that has even included a militant attack, 13 areas with a potential for 514 MW of turbines have been identified by the Basque Country's department of industry as suitable for development. The estimates of potential are contained in a draft plan, Plan Territorial Sectorial (PTS), and are based on 660 kW turbines as sold by Gamesa, a joint venture with Vestas of Denmark.

No more than six sites will likely be approved for development, however, according to Jose Angel Cachorro of the regional energy department. The Basque country's energy strategy only calls for 175 MW of wind power by 2005 -- 3% of the region's power needs. And resistance has been brewing over environental issues and the regional government's apparent favouritism of one developer.

If the PTS is approved, other developers say they will have a clearer idea of which areas will be less likely to meet opposition -- particularly from the environment department. The Basque parliament commissioned the industry department and regional energy agency, Ente Vaso de la Energía (EVE), to draw up the PTS in 1997. The objective was to promote wind development with the emphasis on environmental responsibility. Despite the good intentions, the region's approach to wind has been widely and vehemently criticised.

Much of the growing opposition stems from the government allowing Eólicas de Euskadi to build the region's first wind plant in the Sierra de Elgea under a so-called "special plan" before the PTS was ready (Windpower Monthly, April 2000). Eólicas de Euskadi is owned equally by utility Iberdrola and, more significantly, EVE, the regional agency which drew up the government's wind plan. The existence of the "special plan," and many more wind plant applications submitted by Eólicas de Euskadi, is leading to fears of more such "special plans" and uncontrolled development in the environmentally rich and sensitive area. EVE has also long since defined 29 potential sites for wind plant development.

Militant attack

The 26 MW Elgea plant, now being built using 660 kW Gamesa turbines, was long the subject of bitter controversy and fierce resistance before it finally got going. A truck loaded with blades was set on fire at the site in March. Next, the town of Eskoriatza refused permission for the three turbines earmarked for its district; this dispute will most likely be settled in court. Following that, turbine orders were cancelled after local farmers refused to cede land for development. After negotiations between Eólicas de Euskadi and the regional farmers union, the orders were placed with Gamesa once again.

Calls for a more precise and transparent regional wind plan have come from the regional government's own provincial delegation in Alava. Some town halls are also taking measures to stave off development in local areas. Most significantly, the town hall of Soraluze has begun buying up land with a view to refusing wind development rights.

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