Regulator conducts fraud investigation

The claim that as much as 3515 MW of wind capacity went online in Spain last year and was eligible for production incentive payments under 2007 regulations is under official investigation by the national power market regulator, the Comisión Nacional de la Energía (CNE). Officials are in the process of visiting and scrutinising selected sites.

From a comparison of the registered online capacity with actual and invoiced wind power production during the year, CNE suspects an exaggeration of "over 1000 MW." The suspicion is shared by the national grid operator, Red Eléctrica de España (REE), which traces just 2500 MW of new capacity over 2007. That would have brought Spain's total wind power capacity to 14,200 MW at the end of the year rather than the 15,145 MW registered.

The registered new capacity marked an all time annual record for any European country. But the implications of CNE's investigation go beyond scoring a European record. The Spanish press has been quick to jump on the likelihood of fraud. At the end of 2007, Spain's wind power production incentive dropped dramatically.

From the start of this year, all new wind plant coming online are eligible for a lower subsidy payment of EUR 29.29 per megawatt hour produced, down from EUR 38/MWh in 2007. Wind operators had a lot to gain by registering a wind plant as online before the deadline. "Duping the press and public with false capacity figures, for whatever reason, would be simply irresponsible, but trying to hoodwink CNE, and so claim a higher production incentive, would be such extremely serious fraud as to be almost impossible to believe," says Luis Merino of renewables energy magazine Energías Renovables.

While CNE is not accusing anybody of a crime -- at least not yet-in a statement, it underlines the importance of a crucial step in the process of registering a plant as online: all plant must have been connected to a local dispatch control centre, providing REE with emergency override control. CNE is not specific on the subject, but many of the control centres are run by wind operators, so are potentially positioned to fake connection of a wind plant.

"But we have absolutely no indication that anything so preposterous has happened," says national wind association Asociación Empresarial Eólica (AEE). Furthermore, it is unlikely that the final registration for so much capacity would hinge on just one procedure. "Numerous procedures involving public administrations and institutions must be completed," says AEE.

CNE is remaining silent during the investigation and offers no other explanation of exactly how the 1000 MW difference has come to light and where the anomalies seem to lie. "What has undeniably happened is that the reputation of the wind sector, falsely accused time and again of all kinds of things -- from being unjustifiably costly to destabilising the system -- is once again suffering," says AEE. More will be known early in 2009, when CNE's investigation team of 30, also inspecting solar photovoltaic power for similar reasons, expects to produce its findings.

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