A new law in Spain, upgrading environmental legislation, could help wind power restore its lost prestige as a "green" form of power production. Bird deaths in the country's wind farms at Tarifa have considerably weakened the broad environmental support of wind power in Spain. It appears that selection of sites will be subjected to tougher rules and control. Studies underway of Tarifa's actual threat to migrating birds will be taken into account in the future.

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A new law upgrading environmental legislation in Spain could help wind power redeem much of its lost prestige as an environmentally benign form of power production. Bird deaths in the country's wind farms at Tarifa have considerably weakened the broad environmental support of wind in Spain (Windpower Monthly, June 1994). It now appears that demands for more control over where wind projects are sited will be met in the new legislation, to be published this month.

The law upgrades environmental legislation all round, hiking fines and prison sentences from a current six months imprisonment and fines of ESP 5 million to a maximum of four years and fines of ESP 36 million. Although it does not specifically mention wind power, the law directly affects the industry because of the protection it specifically awards wildlife, including birds. The relevant passages in the law refer to "those who hinder the reproduction or migration of wildlife," and another one pertaining to officials who approve schemes that endanger wildlife. This last clause is aimed at ensuring environmental impact studies are properly carried out.

The new law has been welcomed as a major victory by environmentalists and conservationists who have been lobbying for years for greater protection for some of Spain's endangered species, like the brown bear, wolf or lynx, which have seen their numbers dwindle. In the case of wind turbines, project developers in the future will be forced to extreme precautions when choosing sites to avoid conflict with Spain's numerous bird migration routes, some of which are over the country's best wind sites.

Such legislation is bound to improve Spain's image overseas after the recent controversy involving raptor deaths at Tarifa. Interestingly, it has also drawn praise from prominent members of the wind industry in Spain which sees it as filling a legal vacuum which allowed for some unnecessary glitches in the past. "We welcome this kind of legislation," says Francisco Serrano of the Institute for the Diversification of Energy (IDAE), the government body charged with promoting alternative and renewable energy sources. "It will help to ensure wind power stays green and is not tarnished by the activities of a minority," he says.

But how the legislation will be greeted at Tarifa, where some 270 wind turbines now operate, remains to be seen. Evidence gathered by ornithologists suggests the wind farm could be seriously disrupting a migration route for thousands of birds flying between Europe and Africa, posing a particular danger to raptors. Several new wind projects are in the works at Tarifa, including a 30 MW development built by US firm Kenetech and a smaller one by Nordtank of Denmark. Bird societies say they will make full use of the law to ensure impact at Tarifa is kept to a minimum.

However, the regional environmental agency of Andalucia (AMA) appears confident the wind farms are not the threat to bird life which environmentalists are claiming. The director of the agency, Fernando Martinez Salcedo, says partial results of a bird study conducted by the Spanish Ornithological Society (SEO), had revealed no bird collisions since May. New wind farms, he says, are likely to be given the final go-ahead before the end of the summer.

Spokesman Fernando Barrio for the SEO warns, however, that the partial results of the study do not give a clear picture of the potential impact of the wind plants, since the autumn migration was not properly calibrated in 1993 -- and without that data the study is worthless. "During the spring migration, the birds fly at greater altitudes and therefore the fatalities are comparatively smaller than during the autumn migration when the birds come in low over the wind farms, often resting in the vicinity of the turbines before crossing the straits." He adds: "We are under contractual obligations to release the study to the AMA, however incomplete, because they are paying for it, but this does not mean that we will not continue carrying out the research until completed in December of 1994. If the impact of the current windmills is too great, we will be taking legal action against future developments."

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