Partnership taking on the industry giants

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Among the huge utilities and power companies grappling with mountains of red tape and the authorities to develop wind power stations in Spain, two lifetime friends noted that some windy areas close to home were being overlooked

In the region of Castile La Mancha, homeland of Spain's most celebrated literary hero, Don Quixote, two locals, Francisco Comendador and Vicente Maqueda, have charged at a regional wind market dominated by an army of corporate giants. Their project development company, Generaciones Eléctricas Alternativas (GEA), won full licensing in July for the 3 MW Cabeza Conde wind plant, while four more projects totalling 72 MW are nearing construction. Grid connection permits have been sealed for 34 MW, while one 9 MW project is only waiting on a municipal building license.

All five projects will be supplied by German turbine manufacturer Repower, part of a framework deal that contributed greatly to GEA's staying power. In 2002 Repower entered an agreement to finance GEA's four smaller projects in return for the turbine contract and for a 75% stake in GEA's 50 MW Cerro Moreno project. Repower is currently negotiating project finance for Cabeza Conde, which is set to become the manufacturer's first operational plant in Spain.

But to talk about GEA as if it were a corporate developer is to miss the point. GEA is the embodiment of a do-or-die lifetime friendship between Comendador and Maqueda and their shared passion for renewables and extensive first hand knowledge of local winds. The two now provide wind measuring services to a chain of other developers.

When in May 1999 the government of Castile la Mancha launched a call for wind projects, Spain's largest wind developers immediately block-busted the region with applications. Most were for sites at 800 metres and more on Spain's central high plateau. The partners noted that some of the windier areas closer to sea level -- mainly in their home province of Toledo -- had not been identified for development. So they lodged their own proposals.

"That was the easy bit," says Comendador. Despite initial siting approval for 13 projects, the partners still had to present viability studies, together with environmental impact assessments (EIAs). They also had to negotiate grid connections and land lease agreements. "Not easy when you're holding down a day-time job and doing as much as you can at weekends," says Maqueda.


The most pressing task was wind measuring, where GEA's initial do-it-yourself approach came in to its own. Comendador's company was in charge of making the first measuring tower. Ten people -- including family, friends and three immigrant farm hands -- were rounded up to help hoist the tower into place, successively inserting sections at the bottom. "We left it at 36 metres, instead of the 40 metres planned, through fear that the whole thing would fall on us," says Maqueda. "I wouldn't repeat that experience for all the megawatts in the world."

Other early wind measuring experiences included six hours up a local radio mast on a freezing December day to fit equipment. At one site, due to lack of vehicle access, GEA and friends had to carry all the tower sections and equipment on their backs over a 70-minute climb during a record heat wave

GEA's efforts were not in vane. In 2001, wind readings convinced Spain's energy efficiency agency, Institúto para la Diversificación y Ahorro y de la Energía (IDAE), to offer development support and project finance. IDAE's offer gave the partners a welcome boost and they immediately founded GEA to consolidate developing efforts. From there, GEA turned down IDAE's offer and instead drew in local engineering support prepared to finance costs for a stake in the project.

GEA is looking to emulate the Danish model it so admires with a series of small, distributed wind plants based on local investment. Meanwhile, the company is pressing for its large 50 MW Cerro Moreno project, which would bring Repower full return on its support. Due to limited grid capacity, local distributor utility Unión Fenosa has granted connection rights for just 12 MW. True to its tenacious form, GEA has found a possible solution for the remaining 38 MW. National train company Renfe operates an electrified route nearby and GEA is negotiating to share its substation. To paraphrase Quixote himself: where there's a will there's a way.

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