Court orders wind plant removal

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Wind developer Enerfin says it will appeal a court ruling ordering it to dismantle the 23 turbines that make up its 37 MW Chantada wind farm in Galicia, Spain's most developed wind region. The wind farm has been operational since 2005. It was approved for development in 2003 by the regional government, or Xunta, which decided properties on the site should be expropriated to enable the plant to be built.

Landowners have been fighting the 2003 decision ever since. They argue the Xunta used faulty premises for expropriation after it reclassified the Chantada site as in the "public interest" for purposes of electricity generation. Chantada falls within the EU's Red Natura-Habitat directive, which protects areas of outstanding beauty and special animal and plant species.

A Galician court upheld the landowners' argument that the site's public interest resided more in its landscape value, free pasture and timber resource business. The court decided those activities provide local benefits. The wind plant, on the other hand, "prejudices the territorial wealth of the region, displacing its benefits to other parts of the country," namely to Enerfin, which is based in Madrid, and to electricity consumers in general.

It has ordered Enerfin to "return the hillside to its former state." This means digging up and relocating power lines across Chantada, which also serve Enerfin's nearby 128 MW Faro-Farelo wind complex. The company notes it sealed 300 different agreements with landowners to install the power lines.

The lawyer leading the litigation on behalf of the landowners is unimpressed by the argument. "Once in a while, the weak triumph against the strong in the courts," says José López. He described the expropriation of properties as "a sham."

The Xunta and Enerfin say they will appeal to the Supreme Court, arguing the recent ruling ignores alternative solutions. They say that removing the wind plant entirely would be detrimental to the interests of Galicia, which has a strong industrial base linked to the 2000 MW plus of wind capacity online in the region. Moreover, despite López's victory call, wind industry suspicions are that the landowners' case backfired -- they had not called for the wind turbines to be taken down, but were demanding continuous compensation set at 1% of Chantada's generation earnings.

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