Muñoz was speaking at a wind conference last month which coincided with the official inauguration of the region's second wind plant so far, the 49.5 MW Cabimonteros project. It brings La Rioja's installed capacity to 74 MW, enough to raise the region's own electricity production from 21.25% of total demand to 30.62%, according to the government.
The prime mover of the wind activity in Rioja is Desarrollos de Energías Renovables de La Rioja SA (DER-Rioja). Not only is it behind the Cabimonteros plant, but also the 24.4 MW Yerga wind plant from last year and three out of five projects shortlisted by the Rioja government. The three projects, totalling 135 MW, are: Yerga II, a 30.6 MW extension to Yerga I; Escurrillo, a 50 MW extension of Cabimonteros and the 50 MW Sierra de Gatún plant, in the districts of Quel and Villarroya.
So far, all La Rioja's installed capacity comes from a total of 111 Gamesa Eólica G47/660 kW machines. DER-Rioja has also chosen Gamesa G52/850 kW turbines for the 30.6 MW Yerga plant extension. But it will use Enron Wind's 1.5 MW turbine to supply its Escurrillo and Sierra de Gatún developments, each of 50 MW. Felix Sanz, former director of DER-Rioja, says these two projects are an exciting challenge, given that they constitute "macroplant in very high areas of between 1000 and 1200 metres with difficult access via slopes of up to 15%."
The remaining two of the five shortlisted projects, 70 MW installed capacity in all, are to be developed by Spain's leading wind company, Gamesa Energía, the development arm of the Gamesa wind empire. DER-Rioja is largely owned by Navarra-based developer Desarrollos de Energías Renovables SA, and Spain's second largest utility, Iberdrola, each holding 36.25%. The remaining 27.50% is held by a conglomeration of regional investors, the Fomento de Inversiones Riojanas SA. DER-Rioja was the first to carry out extensive wind measurements in the area back in the 1990s, giving it a head start on the competition. Indeed, Sanz claims it was DER-Rioja's studies that opened the regional government's eyes to wind power and its potential to turn La Rioja from a net importer of electricity into a self sufficient region.
Regulation introduced in 1998 identified areas suitable for wind development and at the same time the La Rioja government drew up its wind regulation bill. This stipulates that wind development will be open to public competition once the government has identified sites for development each year.
The government's aim is to select areas that need as little additional electrical infrastructure as possible to minimise environmental impact. This means that all development in the immediate future is located within reach of three substations: El Sequero and Quel in La Rioja and La Serna in Navarra region. The government expects to need only three new power lines for the initial 270 MW. Not that DER-Rioja is content to stop there. At last month's conference, DER-Rioja president Javier Troyas said the company was also striving to attain permits for a further three wind plant.