In many ways Murcia thus represents a microcosm of all that is problematic in the Spanish wind sector. But while other Spanish regions have used long moratoria periods to prepare complex integrated wind plans (Windpower Monthly, July 2000), developers in Murcia have no such relief on the horizon. They are facing lengthy delays and the knowledge that they might have to abandon the region entirely.
The impetus behind Murcia's wind developments came largely from the regional industry department, which drew up a plan for wind and other renewables in 1996 in collaboration with IDAE, the state run renewables agency. Despite serious regional electricity distribution weaknesses, the industry department and developers alike have remained optimistic that, following private investment in local grid improvements, at least 350 MW of wind capacity -- corresponding to IDAE's conservative estimate for Murcia -- could easily be absorbed.
This argument is especially convincing given that the regional electricity distribution owner, utility Iberdrola, is indirectly behind about half of the development applications. Energia Hidroeléctrica de Navarra (EHN), by far Spain's largest wind power developer and 37% owned by Iberdrola, has presented 46 applications, while the utility's own renewables arm, Iberdrola Diversificación, aims to develop six sites.
Not all are convinced, however, about Iberdrola's commitment to wind power. The only two wind plant so far built in Murcia -- the 5.94 MW P.E. Ascoy project of Gamesa 660 kW turbines and the 5.28 MW La Unión plant of eight MADE 660 kW due to come on-line -- have been developed by Elecdey, an independent power producer formed in 1994 following a split with Elecnor. Elecdey is none too certain about the willingness of Iberdrola to absorb 350 MW. The company's Ignacio Lapuente highlights the "surprisingly lengthy and complicated process involved in sealing definitive feed-in authorisation from Iberdrola." He also confirms that weaknesses in the regional power network have recently forced Ascoy's safety switch to trip several times this summer, disconnecting the plant from the grid.
The Ascoy wind plant is due to be extended to 11.94 MW by 2001. Elecdey is a 50% owner of the 5.28 MW La Unión development, now fully installed and set to come on- line this month.
Notwithstanding potential connection problems, the mistake of excluding the environment department from wind power planning at the outset -- as has happened in many regions -- now poses possibly insurmountable obstacles for developers. Lapuente says the environment department is working on its own wind development map with exclusion zones that "prevent development in the few areas with clearly viable and profitable winds." Although Elecdey has 17 applications in the running, Lapuente finds it difficult to feign optimism and he believes that, "The future of wind power in the region seems very dark indeed."
The big question now is whether regional departments follow the lead from other Spanish regions in forging out a consensual and integrated wind plan; or whether the industry department's initial enthusiasm for wind merely raised false and costly hopes for developers. With Spain's grid capacity limitation already in sight for wind (Windpower Monthly, July 2000), a quick and clear answer is even more pressing.