Grid holds key to massive development -- Plans for 5000 MW set to put Andalucia back on the wind map

Grid improvements in Andalucia look set to hurl Spain's southernmost region back into the wind industry spotlight after years of relative inactivity. In the Tarifa district of Cadiz alone, 518 MW of new capacity was given the go-ahead earlier this year, while developers and local authorities in the neighbouring district of La Janda are putting the finishing touches to a local wind plan that will open the way for about 550 MW (Windpower Monthly, March 2001).

Meanwhile, the province of Malaga is processing projects totalling 1692 MW, with development applications building for a combined capacity of around 5000 MW, according to Rafael Palomino, chairman of a wind developer negotiating committee. Furthermore, the regional press has reported applications for more than 2000 MW in the neighbouring coastal province of Almeria.

Grid restrictions have severely limited development in Adalucia so far, with just 32 MW hooked up in since 1998 to bring the region's total to just 146 MW. Of this, 113 MW is concentrated in the small district of Tarifa. But concerted efforts by developers to collaborate on grid reinforcement and expansion look set to pave the way for speedy development -- especially with the region's long awaited regional energy plan, the Plan Energético de Andalucia (PLEAN), nearing completion.

Palomino chairs three developer collectives for negotiating power line improvements with national grid operator Red Eléctrica Española (REE). The first of these groups, founded this year in Tarifa, has sealed a deal with REE for grid improvements to connect a total of 505 MW. The four developers -- Wind Ibérica, Endesa Cogeneración y Renovables, Aerosur and Wigep -- will jointly foot the ¤6 million bill. The success of the Tarifa negotiations persuaded the four developers to team up more permanently in a local pressure group, the Asociación Eólica Tarifa (AET).

Another of Palomina's three collectives is based in the district of La Janda, but it remains to be seen if its members will collaborate on grid improvements in the same way as the Tarifa group. Palomino expects local authorities to finalise the La Janda wind plan by the end of the year, opening the way for granting wind project site permits. But Lola Gómez of Cadiz's diputación, or county council, sees February 2002 as a more realistic date.

In Malaga, Palomino estimates potential capacity for environmentally responsible development to be at least 1000 MW. "There is already room to connect at least 400 MW," he claims. Given the regional government's apparent determination to improve infrastructure, Palomino thinks that REE could absorb the remaining 600 MW within two and a half years. Even so, with 120 applications totalling 5000 MW, more than a few are bound to lose out.

Regional plan

Aside from more grid capacity, starting orders for wind development in Malaga depend largely on when the regional government's provincial delegation finishes its wind development map. Reluctant to hazard a guess, Antonio Castro of Malaga's environment department, does not rule out completion for the end of 2001. Palomino is confident that prompt developer action will follow. The third of the developer collectives he chairs, the Asociación Eólica de Málaga, was formed on the back of the success in Tarifa on grid negotiations.

Much of the renewed activity in Andalusia is being driven by the near completion of PLEAN as well as the improved outlook for grid expansion. Jose Manuel Torres of the regional energy agency says he expects the energy plan will be in force by the end of the year. One of PLEAN's main aims is to boost the region's overall electrical production, especially from combined cycle gas plant. Another aim -- at least ostensibly -- is to implement measures for reaching the region's 12% renewables commitment for 2010. Both objectives are impossible to realise without extensive improvements to the region's extremely weak grid.

In June 2000, Eduardo Torres of the Junta's energy department said that PLEAN envisaged installed wind capacity reaching 1200 MW by 2006. Now, Palomino is talking about at least 2000 MW of new viable wind capacity. Given the silence shrouding PLEAN it remains unclear whether this means that the Junta has aims to raise the ceiling for wind or whether developers are simply pressurising to get as much of the region's new power lines as possible.

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