Much ado over small spoils -- Basque Country releases strategy

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The Basque government has initially approved a plan defining six areas eligible for wind development. The so-called Plan Territorial Sectorial (PTS) caps overall regional wind capacity at 175 MW up to 2005 -- including the 26 MW from the region's existing Elgea wind plant. The PTS also defines a second reserve group of a further seven sites if, for any reason, the 175 MW objective cannot be met in the main group of six.

Initial approval of the PTS has taken a year following the first draft in June 2000. Regional energy department director, Txaber Lezamiz, now hopes the PTS will be rubber stamped before the year is out. If so, resistance is promised from PTS critics at municipal and provincial level. Any further delays will particularly impact the one wind plant developer with serious intentions for the Basque region, local company Eólicas de Euskadi. The company, the owner-developer of the showcase Elgea plant, is a joint venture between the regional energy agency, Ente Vasco de la Energía (EVE), and utility Iberdrola.

Criticism of the PTS is mainly on the grounds of the perceived environmental and visual impact of wind farms on an important tourist area. Opponents include local councils and the regional government's delegation in the province of Alava. Laura Arpón of the delegation says the government has disregarded its objections. "We can perceive no substantial change between the draft and the present document," says Arpón. She explains that earmarked wind zones include areas classified or shortlisted as being of special natural and cultural interest. She also describes the PTS as "an instrument of territorial imbalance." Three of the six main sites and four of the reserve sites are concentrated in Alava, near the provincial capital, Vitoria. If Arpón is right in her claims, a deluge of protests is about to pour into the energy department, with many from town hall governments.

Warming to wind

But Lezamiz does not think this will be the case. "The municipalities are warming to wind," he claims, citing the case of Eskoriatza. The town hall of this district initially refused to license three 660 kW turbines planned for Elgea and the plant kicked in at 1.9 MW below its targeted capacity. Lezamiz says the district town hall has now accepted the turbines. Furthermore, at least one town hall can verify that the regional government has heeded its allegations to some degree. The mayor of Soraluze, Alberto Sudupe, says that his office filed against the proposed installation of turbines on prehistoric archaeological sites. The current document has shifted these sites from the main group into the reserve group of areas.

Meanwhile, however, the town hall of Karrantza recently voted to refuse licenses to any wind development on its municipal lands. Whether more town halls fall in with Karrantza's posture remains to be seen. If major opposition does emerge, the regional government can still legally ride over allegations and approve the PTS -- unless there is a parliamentary majority vote against doing so. This would be the true test of the government's claims to sensitivity.

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