Valencia finally gets wind strategy -- Favouritism feared

Valencia, on Spain's eastern seaboard, has released its long awaited wind plan, Plan Eólico, proposing a maximum installed capacity of about 1700 MW for the region by 2010, requiring an investment of ESP 200 billion and creating 20,000 jobs. The key objective is to halve Valencia's dependency on energy imports while bringing wealth and employment to its "more socially and economically depressed areas in the mountainous interior," according to the document. Environmental impact issues of wind plant are a central issue, with the categorisation of six exclusion zones.

Despite an attack for "lacking a foundation in social dialogue" by the region's left-wing Esquerra Unida party, the plan is defended by the industry department, which maintains it is the result of "co-ordination and consensus." Not all are convinced, however. The plan is also criticised by trade unions even though it emphasises local employment. "It will neither reduce emissions from oil nor the consumption of nuclear power," says Antoni Montesinos of Comisiones Obreras, one of Spain's largest unions, adding, "It will only cover new energy demand." Montesinos also describes as "deplorable" the use of wind power to meet increased energy consumption without implementing an integrated plan for energy efficiency that combines support for other renewables with demand management.

Valencia froze wind development last year in order to deal with an avalanche of applications. It has only 3 MW of operating wind turbines. Both the freeze and the Plan Eólico mirror activity in Castilla la Mancha, Castille and León and Catalonia, regions which have charted the same wind course in the last two years. The Valencia wind target would provide power to nearly two million homes, according to estimates from the state run renewables agency, IDAE.

Significantly, utility Energía Hidroeléctrica de Navarra (EHN), Spain's largest wind developer, has proposed 1000 MW of projects in Valencia, leaving only 700 MW to its competitors if the plan is adhered to. The region is one of EHN's main target markets -- and could become an important outlet for a 1400 MW order it placed with Gamesa early this year.

Smaller developers are voicing off-the-record fears that the region's overall wind development is already a closed book favouring big companies and the Plan Eólico simply supports this state of affairs. No development may go ahead without municipally granted licenses, leaving much up to good relationships between developers and local town halls.

The publication of the plan in the official regional bulletin on October 3 opens it up to public comment for 60 days. Next month, the regional industry department will begin responding to any comments. The plan is expected to be enforced in the first half of next year.