Utility developer still dominates Albacete -- Not even lack of a grid link slows march of EHN

A fully installed 31 MW wind plant at Cuerda in the Spanish province of Albacete will sit idle until August for lack of a grid connection. But the developer, Energías Eólicas Europeas (EEE), is regarding the long and expensive delay as no more than a hiccup. It is forging ahead with other projects in the province while a substation for Cuerda is built. So far EEE is the only developer to be installing wind plant in the region of Castilla la Mancha (New Castile), though hundreds of applications for several thousand megawatts from other developers are pending.

EEE draws its financial strength from its equal ownership by utility Energia Hidroeléctrica de Navarra (EHN), Spain's largest wind station operator and developer, and by utility Iberdrola. Indeed it seems it was these credentials which lured competing developers into Albacete. Until EEE's interest in the province, the wind resource had been dismissed as too small. Now there are hundreds of siting applications caught in a permitting bottleneck, tightened in May last year when the regional government pushed through a wind plan for Castilla la Mancha, the Plan Eólico. Since then there has been a freeze on new development, while the EEE projects which slipped through the bottleneck have proceeded. By August, however, a decision on many of the subsequent project proposals from other developers is being anticipated.

With so much project construction to manage, EEE seems unconcerned about the idle status of the Cuerda plant and its current inability to earn its keep. The plant was built in the understanding that it would temporarily be able to use a free arm of a pylon line belonging to grid owner Red Eléctrica Española (REE) to transport the 132 kV output to a substation in the city of Albacete. This would have allowed it to be on-line while EEE finished building its own substation. The connection contract ran into problems, however.

Meantime, EEE has just brought another 37 MW on-line in Albacete, the Muela de Tortosilla wind farm in the district of Alpera. The project cost ESP 4500 million (EUR 27.05 million). It shares a substation with EEE's neighbouring 112 MW group of four plant, collectively known as Higueruela (Windpower Monthly, September 1999).

Special agreement

The Muela de Tortosilla, Cuerda and Higueruela wind farms were all developed under a special agreement between EHN and the Albacete government prior to Castilla la Mancha's Plan Eólico. This agreement granted approval for EEE to develop a total of 455 MW at 12 sites in Albacete. Four of the remaining seven developments, all using 660 kW Gamesa G-47 Vestas turbines, are well underway (table). Furthermore, construction has begun on two 24 MW developments known as Virgen de los Belenes I and II, both of which precede EHN's special agreement as do two further planned projects: the 49 MW Isabela plant using 12 Ecotècnia 750 kW units and 54, 750 kW Tacke machines from the German subsidiary of American Enron Wind Corp; and the 34 MW Sierra Quemada project of 46 Tacke 750 kW turbines.

Development pressure in Albacete has had its effect on EHN's plans and four of its projects are at a standstill. Alarms are being sounded by environmentalists and conservationists and in a growing trend, competing developers are using the waiting time enforced by the Plan Eólico to negotiate deals with local town halls to help the viability of their projects. Both factors have been instrumental in halting EHN's four final projects, which total 178 MW.

As a consequence, EEE has boosted its vigorous public relations campaign aimed at reassuring the public in Albacete of its environmental protection record as well as to dissuade town halls from being tempted by financial offers from inexperienced companies, which have no means to guarantee the fulfilment of their promises, claims EEE.

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