Dispelling mistrust of wind in Catalonia

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Fears of arbitrary and unbridled wind development sweeping into the more environmentally and culturally sensitive areas of the Catalonia region of Spain could be placated by a wind zoning map drawn up by an ecologist pressure group, GEPEC, the Grupo para el Estudio y la Protecci—n de los Ecosistemas del Campo. The map designates 30 areas the group considers suitable for environmentally friendly development in the province of Tarragona. Increased general interest in the map has come as a result of the recent disappearance of a pair of rare eagles in the vicinity of the Trucafort wind farm in Tarragona (Windpower Monthly, November 1999).

Although strongly in favour of wind power in general, GEPEC is distrustful of regional government planning as set down in the Pla Director de Parcs Eólics a Catalunya. It says wind development for ESP 150,000 million (i901.5 million) is needed to reach its target of 300 MW installed by 2005. GEPEC alleges the plan is based on outdated mapping criteria with wind measurements taken at a height of just seven metres.

Furthermore, GEPEC's Albert Caulduch is unhappy that the only areas to be systematically excluded from the plans are national parks, natural parks and nature reserves. Areas of ecological interest falling within the lesser category of PEIN (Plan de Espacios de Interes Naturales) remain fair game for developers. Tarragona is particularly vulnerable. With much of its natural wealth classed in the PEIN category, no less than 80 of the 100 proposals for Catalonia are for Tarragona.


GEPEC points to Eolic Partners' project in Coll de Moro (next story) as the way forward. This model envisages shifting development away from the more visually and ecologically sensitive hilltops and towards exploiting lower wind speeds on the plains. Eolic Partners aims to achieve this in Coll de Moro using turbines on tall towers, even though the region's official wind mapping studies (at seven metres) have indicated speeds to be as low as 2.5 m/s. Extrapolating on Eolic Partners' findings, GEPEC has calculated 1000 MW to be exploitable at the 30 sites it has defined for Tarragona alone. This is the same volume that the generalitat deems attainable for the entire region by 2010. Whether Eolic Partners' model and GEPEC's extrapolation are really viable, only time will tell.

Meantime, GEPEC and other ecology groups and neighbourhood associations are taking up a more aggressively defensive stance not, insists Caulduch, against wind power as such, but against the regional government's development policy. Such opposition comes despite complaints from wind industry insiders regarding the lack of progress in Catalonia. Only two new plant have been installed since the region's strategic plan was approved in March 1998 -- bringing the regional total up to three -- and there are even rumours that no more than another two plant will be installed before the end of the recently re-elected government's new term of office.

Whether there is any foundation to these rumours or not, GEPEC sees the disappearance of the pair of eagles in Trucafort alone as reason enough for alarm. If this can happen on the first of only two wind plant to go up under the plan then surely there is an inherent flaw, the group maintains. GEPEC claims that other irregularities have been committed in Trucafort, such as the alleged invasion of an exclusion zone 50 metres from the ridge. It also maintains that the plant's third row of turbines is too inefficient to justify installation.

Antonio Mart’nez of Ecotècnia -- one of the companies making up SEESA, Trucafort's developer, as well as the supplier of its turbines -- is concerned by the disappearance of the eagles, but does not think there is any reason to believe that the wind turbines are responsible. He insists that "the company scrupulously observed the terms of its agreement with the regional government," which involved reassessing the micro-siting of the plant's 91 turbines and moving 26 of them to an area with less wind in order to avoid possible risk to the resident pair of eagles. Mart’nez is adamant that "there has been no incident involving any of the plant's turbines hitting any bird" and does not wish to speculate on the eagles' disappearance until an ornithological study is finished.

Regarding the allegations that Ecotècnia has breached the exclusion zone, Mart’nez supposes this is due to GEPEC's "misinterpretation" of the agreement details. He insists that not only were the terms of agreement closely observed but that SEESA also respected certain recommendations made by the Generalitat. One of these involved "upgrading the area's substation at the company's own expense and installing 12 new 25 kW cables, thus significantly improving the local electricity supply."

Mart’nez says the wind plant consists of two rows of turbines, not three, although uniformity is occasionally broken by additional machines, which have been included to optimise infrastructure investment wherever generation yields make this profitable. He adds that the difference between the average production of the plant and that of its least productive machines is 9.1%.

Clearing the air

The most significant element of this polemic does not reside in whether the region's environmental wealth is going to be mangled in the blades of irresponsible developers. Nor does it reside in whether the generalitat lacks the political will to carry through its strategic plan. As wind power quickly shifts into overdrive in Spain, what is important for Catalonia, and for many other regions where this relatively new industry seems to be governed by over zealous caution and indecipherable signals, is simply that healthy ongoing debate comes into play in order to clear the air.

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