Cantabria wind plan under fire

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Wind development in the small single-province region of Cantabria on Spain's north coast border with France is still failing to get off the ground. Despite ushering in a wind regulation last year, the regional government has not approved any plant construction. Developer frustration regarding costly delays has turned to exasperation following the Conservative (PP) government's decision to close the door on new applications.

The government justifies the freeze on the grounds that the industry department is processing applications for more than 500 MW, an amount which "requires impact evaluation" both on the regional electricity sector as well as Cantabria's environmental wealth. The excuse does not wash with the PSOE Labour opposition party. A motion presented by PSOE deputy Luisa Ortiz criticizes the wind regulation. He wants a wind development plan that defines exclusion zones based on environmental and cultural criteria, but it was rejected by the PP.

Ortiz's approach is supported by both wind developers and ecologists. They argue that Cantabria's government has failed to learn from the experience of other regions in drawing up wind regulations. Environmentally sensitive Navarra and Galicia have shown how wind can work given political, social and environment consensus, they say, while the opposite is true of Castile and León, Catalonia and Murcia, which excluded their own environment departments when drawing up development regulations.

One of the region's main developers, Peña Labra, has had enough and is now taking legal action. The government refused to accept Peña Labra's wind project plans because they were not based on a full year's wind measurements, as demanded by the disputed government wind regulation. But Peña Labra's requests to install wind monitoring masts had long since been rejected, says the company's Alvaro Fernandez, making it impossible to meet the requirement. Meantime, of the five wind plans submitted by other developers -- and accepted for consideration by the government -- some included readings from towers that were installed without permission, says Fernandez. He argues it is up to the courts to decide if any irregular interests are at play.

So far the regional government has not said whether it will continue processing applications it admitted prior to the freeze. Fernandez thinks that delays on this decision could be down to the number of lawsuits -- he estimates around 20 -- started by town halls against the government's wind regulation. They are objecting to the regulation's go-ahead for expropriation of land for wind development, depriving small land-owners and town halls from negotiating lease agreements with developers.

As if to rub salt into the wind industry's Cantabrian wounds, one of only two wind farms to have been approved -- but not licensed for construction -- has lost all hope of proceeding. The site of the proposed 13 MW Ornedo development has been sealed off after the discovery of archaeological artefacts. The developer, Compañía Eólica Aragonesa SA (CEASA), was one of the first in the area. Its hopes now rest upon its 51 MW Endino project.

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