Experts from the world of renewables converged on Lisbon last month for a conference on financing initiatives in the sector. They heard about plans to develop wind plant in the north of Portugal and improve established projects on the country's overseas archipelagos of Madeira and Azores. Foreign manufacturers and developers are already converging on a country they see as offering "interesting possibilities." Encouragement is being offered by the European Union (EU), which is standing by its pro-renewables plan for Portugal, which is exclusive to the country and includes favourable loans.
The two day conference, organized by the Portuguese Energy Ministry's Centro Para A Conservao De Energia (CCE) and sponsored by the EU's Altener programme, drew a healthy number of participants. Papers presented by some 25 speakers from across the EU told the audience of the financial mechanisms provided by governments for the growth of renewables in European nations and called on the private sector to be more generous and less wary of "green energy."
In turn, the foreign speakers learned that Portugal's 70 MW target was announced as recently as November by the former Social Democrat government of Anibal Cavaco Silva. Sources with the new socialist government of Premier Antonio Gutierrez say the it will respect this target and possibly increase it. "It's too early to say how the new government is going to design its renewables plan over the next few years," says Ëlvaro Rodrigues a government consultant at Do Porto University. "Being a socialist government, though, it would not be far fetched to say that we can expect increased interest in all forms of renewable energy systems."
According to Mar’o Jesus Lopes Barroso of Electricidade de Portugal (EDP), the state run power monopoly, at least 40 MW of wind power is now at various stages of development, including three or more wind plant totalling some 30 MW. These should be up and running by January 1998 to join the only other project on the mainland, a 1.6 MW development of Wind World turbines from Denmark, south of Lisbon. Lopes Barroso heads Enernova, the renewables wing of EDP.
Wind farms in the works
The first wind plant scheduled for connection to the grid is a 10 MW project by Enernova, "Fonte da Mesa." Costing some PTÉ 2,300 million, it should be up and running at Lamego, in the north of the country, by the summer. Following Enernova is Tomen Electrica, a Portuguese subsidiary of Japan's Tomen which has a 10 MW project licensed and approved for installation at Meadas, also in the north, in early 1997. Another Enernova farm is planned for January 1998, while two other developers, the German EnergieKontor and the Portuguese Enersis, also have wind plans for the north of the country, although undefined for the moment.
According to Rodrigues, Portugal is concentrating on the north of the country, close to the border with Spain's windswept Galicia, not so much because of the meteorological advantages but because of weak grid problems. "There is good wind in this country but we have a problem with the grid in as much as this is an 'end of the line' situation. In the mountains, where you have wind, you've got no grid or demand for power, whereas on the coasts you have no wind, a better grid and lots of demand."
So what is so special about the north of Portugal? According to Rodrigues and Jorge Gil Saraiva, another government consultant with Portugal's National Civil Engineering Laboratory, the pull of the north has had a lot to do with mini-hydroelectric plant, another renewable source that has huge potential in Portugal, thanks to its huge river and tributaries network. The Douro and Miño rivers flow through the region. "What has happened is that EDP has targeted the north of Portugal for mini-hydroelectric development on a big scale and plans to reinforce the grid to make way for the development of up to 260 MW of mini-hydroelectric with a long term national target of 800 MW," says Rodrigues. "To take full advantage of the improved grid," he adds, "tenders from wind farm developers have been invited." Thus the sudden rush for wind in the north. This does not mean, however, that there is no potential for wind elsewhere in the country.
Special EU loans
Wind power developers also have access to special loans from the EU which are tailor-made for Portugal. These come under the so-called Regional Development Plan for Energy in Portugal which provides 12 year interest free loans for renewable energy schemes. Reimbursement is expected only after the third year and a percentage -- depending on the "degree of excellence" of each individual project -- is provided as a non refundable loan. "It's not great, but not bad," says Enernova's Lopes Barroso.
But the major hurdle wind developers face in Portugal is the price paid for each kilowatt hour produced. Unlike neighbouring Spain, which pays premium prices for renewables, Rodrigues explains that Portugal pays the same price -- about PTÉ 11/kWh -- for all types of electricity, whether produced by renewables or not. "And that is unlikely to change for the moment," says Rodrigues. Companies are also grumbling about the EDP monopoly. With 18-odd subsidiary companies, including Enernova, the utility is unlikely to relinquish its tight grip on the market, especially with a socialist government at the helm.
The new-found enthusiasm in Portugal is unlikely to be dampened, at least, not for the moment. Foreign developers and turbine manufacturers are sizing up the market with Vestas of Denmark a full length ahead of the competition and about to sign a contract with Enernova for several turbines in the 500/600 kW range.
Vestas has also found a foothold in Portugal's overseas possessions, the archipelagos of Madeira and Azores, where all but 1.8 MW of Portuguese wind power is sited. Until now these territories were the exclusive domain of another Danish company, Nordtank, and giant German MAN, no longer active in wind power. On Madeira, 18 Nordtank 150 kW units were installed in 1992-93 where they joined eight small Aeroman's from Germany installed in 1988. In the Azores Nordtank installed six machines in 1991-92, where they again joined eight Aeromans.
According to Vestas' agent in Lisbon, José Costa Sim›es, of Cosim, the eight 30 kW MAN turbines at one project are shortly to be replaced with two Vestas V29 225 kW units and the future of the other farms there is not certain. "There have been a lot of problems with the projects on the islands," says Rodrigues.
"But in general, I can only foresee a healthy future for wind in Portugal. We have several projects well underway, but that is only part of the story. A lot of wind prospecting has been going on in recent months. There are a lot of companies looking for sites, the government is showing an interest and so are a lot of private companies. I don't honestly think that Portugal will stop at 60 MW," concludes Rodrigues.