Today, with some 90 MW in the ground, another 200 MW or so in the works, and an estimated 10,000 MW in line for licensing before the year is out, the joke's now on the sceptics who refused to believe just how good Spain's future in wind power was. Spain might not quite make that self-imposed target, but then the country is renown for improvisation and 11th hour remedies.
"It shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody," says Tomas Andueza, the managing director of Desarrollos Eolicos, a pioneering firm in the sector and co-developer of the first major wind farm in Spain. "Other European countries are either over populated or too small for the kind of development we are engineering. Spain is neither small nor over populated and in some areas it is blessed with the perfect meteorological conditions. We have it all."
From Navarra in the north to Tarifa in the south, Galicia in the north west and Almeria in the south east -- not to mention the Canary Islands off the northwest African coast -- new wind projects are being registered with increasing frequency. As recently as December the Galician government, or Xunta, handed out licenses for a colossal 2500 MW of wind power, just 50% of its potential ceiling (Windpower Monthly, January 1996). Tarifa is poised to for several thousand MW over its current 66 MW. And one enterprising group has plans to open up an area so far untapped: Burgos in central Spain (see page 10).
Spain, in fact, would seem to be in the grip of wind power fever. In Toledo -- traditional windmill country south of Madrid -- a Spanish state-run weapons factory was reconverted at the end of January into a wind turbine blade plant in co-operation with LM Glasfiber in Denmark. In the north, dozens of shipbuilders recently made redundant are to be drafted into the wind industry. Town mayors across the country, aware of the economic incentives which can attract wind power revenues to their regions, are offering to rent municipal land to potential developers in key windy areas. It is hardly surprising that more and more foreign companies are staking claims in the Spanish market, adding to the current gold rush atmosphere.
A short lived bonanza?
But is this just a "wind rush" ? A brief Klondike-like bonanza? And more to the point, will Spain be able to sustain the current growth of the wind business? As well as the birth of wind turbine builders and a rash of potential development companies, the country is facing the emergence of a burgeoning wind power components industry, involving some 30-odd companies.
Given the current electricity law with its highly favourable premium prices for wind it is unlikely that the pace will slow, at least, for the moment. On top of that, Spain's new electricity law, the Ley del Sistema Electrico, currently being drafted, could stimulate wind power growth even further. Like in the deregulated Swedish electricity market, the new law will eventually allow consumers to purchase power from whatever company they choose, permitting environmentally conscious customers to get their electricity from companies who have wind farms. Fears that such a system could induce a damaging price war are dismissed by experts. More likely, they say, is that under Spain's increasingly strict environmental policy, wind will continue to enjoy its privileged position -- premium prices included -- for some time yet.
Perhaps the best indicator of wind power's success and the future of the industry in Spain is the number of foreign companies that have set up home here. Established wind firms like Danish Vestas and the American-Danish SeaWest/Bonus have married into Spanish companies or set up alone. Today there are six or seven big foreign companies doing business on Spanish soil and if the recent distribution of contracts in Galicia is anything to go by, they plan to stay for some time.
Indeed, before America's largest wind company, Kenetech, was forced to fire about a quarter of its workforce late last year, the firm's Bud Grebey said Spain was high on the list of Kenetech's target areas for immediate development. Grebey has since lost his job.
Spain's potential has not been lost on its domestic companies, either. All three national turbine manufacturers and developers, Ecotècnia, Made and Desarrollos Eolicos, are well entrenched in the major wind power areas. Each is developing a second or third generation turbine in the 500 kW or 300 kW size range and competition is such that when GERSA, a newcomer on the development scene, announced plans to site wind farms in central Spain, surveyors from other companies appeared in the same area the next day.
But although contagious, Spain's wind power fever has not infected everybody with the same degree of enthusiasm. A spokesman for a characteristically cautious Danish company expresses amazement at the size of the contracts distributed so generously around Spain and specifically in Galicia. "It seems an awful lot," he comments. "Where are they going to connect all this electricity once it becomes available?"
Some Spanish companies also express caution when appraising Spain's future in wind power. Ecotècnia spokesmen frequently complain of the lack of government incentives, of the difficulty in obtaining utility contracts, and of high interest on loans. Even powerful Endesa, whose subsidiary company Made has turbines turning all over the country, complains of "obstacles" facing the industry.
After watching the events of the last few months, most experts find this attitude difficult to accept and attribute the prevailing caginess to a protectionist attitude initially instigated by the government and now echoed by Spanish companies. Foreign wind companies interested in the Spanish market either had to marry into local companies or found themselves being led up the proverbial garden path by organisations such as the Institute for the Diversification and Saving of Energy (IDAE), the renewables arm of the Ministry of Industry and Energy, which was headed by Francisco Serrano. Now retired, Serrano was renowned for giving behind-the-scenes "guidance" on how foreign companies could best secure a foothold in Spain. Notwithstanding his "advice," foreigners soon settled in Spain and foreign machines are at least as popular with potential developers as those with domestic labels.
"We want the best," says Eduardo Gomez-Acebo of GERSA, planning to install wind farms in the central Burgos area, "We will undoubtedly shop abroad for something in the 500 kW range." His views are echoed by Gamesa-Eolica, in partnership with Danish Vestas and now importing Danish technology and know-how for new wind farms in Navarra and Galicia.
Lessons of the past
Another significant development in the history of wind power in Spain has been the controversy over its impact on the environment. Even though some projects in the south of Spain were stopped in their tracks, the early outcry has in the long run benefited the industry. Research has led to a far better understanding of how to go about wind project development in harmony with the prevailing flora and fauna. The hullabaloo over the death of vultures in Tarifa, for example, ensured that future developers shied away from sensitive areas and took extra precautions to prevent clashes with conservationists.
Early experience of public opposition in Tarifa has also led to a more structured approach to influxes of wind plant in specific regions. Galicia in the north is demanding business plans from prospective developers to ensure the region receives something positive from giving up its land to wind power development. This requirement for some form of community benefit is seen as the likely start of a trend in Spain. Tarifa, overlooking the Straits of Gibraltar in the south, has followed suit and the regional government is expected to soon release its business plan -- including compensation for local municipalities.
Despite the teething problems, the obstacles and the competition on this young but rapidly developing market, Spain is moving quickly into the fast lane. If the current trend continues, it won't be too long before the country becomes a super power of wind energy.