Still secret grid zones hold the key -- Andalucia rush is on

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For optimists, Andalucia's new wind regulation -- the Plan Energetico de Andalucia (PLEAN), introduced six months ago -- is a tool for snipping through the red tape that has strangled wind development for years in the once pioneering region of southern Spain. Project developers of a more pessimistic nature, however, claim the rules, with an emphasis on electricity and gas infrastructure improvements, only add more stifling bureaucracy. With just 160 MW online today, Andalucia is a long way from its 2700 MW target for 2006.

A recent spate of project approvals by the Andalucian government, the Junta, gives the optimists some grounds for hope. At Cantalejo in Seville province, 14.5 MW is cleared to go ahead and the government is promising approval for a chain of further projects this summer, including 14 developments in Seville and a similar number in the provinces of Almeria and Granada.

Meanwhile, the La Janda area of Cádiz province, which recently enforced PLEAN, is tackling 1500 MW of applications; and the Guadalteba area of Málaga province is preparing a plan for an expected 560 MW -- out of applications exceeding 1400 MW, according to regional wind consultant P21.

The upturn is long overdue. Andalucia has slipped from hosting 73% of Spain's installed wind capacity in 1999 to 3% today, according to a new regional wind association, Asociación de Promotores de Energía Eólica en Andalucia (APREAN).

But without major grid improvements, well over half the targeted capacity cannot come online. And here the regional government is about to lay its trump card. As promised earlier this year, it has defined a draft list of five grid connection hot spots -- Zonas de Evacuación de Energía Eólica (ZEDE) -- where essential grid improvements will be fast-tracked to absorb the planned wind boom. The draft ZEDE list is for projects with a combined capacity of 2486 MW throughout the region. The final list is expected "in a matter of weeks," according to P21.

The immediate future of Andalucian wind development depends largely on how much capacity can today be connected in the ZEDE zones. For fear of creating a wind rush, the Junta is so far keeping ZEDE's details secret. P21 estimates the grid can absorb 400 MW in Malaga province and 300 MW in La Janda. Almeria can take 375 MW right now, according to the head of the regional technology department, Clemente Garcia.

Wind projects requiring grid extension, however, will have to get their skates on once the ZEDE grid plan is published -- the Andalucia government is giving developers just 20 days to agree connection priorities among themselves. If conflicting developer interests prevent any kind of mutual agreement, the Junta will intervene with a ruling.

Timeframe too tight

Developers who have been working for years on projects in the area are far from happy. The time limits are too tight and Andalucia will fall way behind other regions if the government effectively negates years of hard and expensive development activity, says Mariano Barroso of APREAN. He argues that veteran developers, who long ago grouped into Mesas Eólicas to better negotiate network connections, should be given more time to reconsider a priority list under the ZEDE plan.

Barroso also wants the Junta to get involved in the negotiations with national grid operator Red Eléctrica de España (REE), which is not known for making life easy for wind developers. This approach worked in Andalucia's Tarifa district where REE and developers are building infrastructure for around 500 MW of capacity that will start going up by the end of the year, says Barroso.

Meantime, APREAN is increasing pressure to stop the ZEDE zoning plan from being implemented. Given the level of the Junta's enthusiasm for ZEDE, few expect the association to win its case. But if the government remains determined to reach 2700 MW of wind by 2006, an optimist can look forward to speedy processing, plus a helping hand from the Junta in negotiations with REE. Even if this were not enough to meet the objective, its seems there is existing grid capacity for well over 1000 MW of new wind plant.

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