Basque country gets first turbines up -- Dispute with town hall persists

The Basque country's first wind plant, 26 MW, was expected to be on-line this month. But bad weather and negotiations with local authorities have set back the construction of the remaining 23 turbines.

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The first 17 of 40, 660 kW wind turbines have finally gone up at the Basque country's first wind plant, all 26.4 MW of which should have been on-line this month. But bad weather and negotiations with several different local authorities have set back the construction of the remaining 23 Gamesa G-47 turbines. These are expected to be up and running before the summer, according to the developer, E—licas de Euskadi.

The wind plant will occupy 4.1 square kilometres as it passes through the provinces of Alava and Guipuzkoa in the environmentally sensitive Sierra de Elgea mountains. The project's four year administrative history has largely involved a series of environmental adjustments, such as the inclusion of a flight corridor for migratory birds and, more recently, the relocation of the substation, which has been moved down into the valley instead of on a mountain top.

The only remaining hitch to the rest of the project lies with the town of Ecoriatza, which must join four other local authorities to grant the go-ahead for the three turbines of the 40 which stretch into its district. Although the town hall maintains that it has now approved the full license, E—licas de Euskadi complains that it comes with undesirable strings attached. This final delay follows a whole series of discrepancies from the town hall regarding details of E—licas de Euskadi's special plan for the area, together with ambiguities regarding the levy agreement by which public land is leased to the developer. If differences are not resolved the plant will go ahead without the three turbines while the issue is battled out in the courtrooms.

E—licas de Euskadi is controlled equally by the Ente Vasco de la Energ’a -- the regional government's holding company -- and utility Iberdrola's renewables arm, Iberdrola Diversificaci—n. E—licas de Euskadi awarded the ESP 2795 million (EUR 16.8 million) turbine contract to Spanish manufacturer Gamesa, which has exclusive rights to manufacture Vestas technology in Spain. The G-47 turbines use the Vestas V-47 design while incorporating Gamesa's Ingecon variable speed system, which the manufacturer claims can significantly improve yields.

At an average of 1000 metres above sea level, the site has average winds of 7.5 m/s. The turbines are expected to operate at full nominal capacity for 2700 hours a year, according to Roberto Izaga L—pez de Arroyabe of E—licas de Euskadi. This will produce somewhere between 65-75 GWh/year, equivalent to the domestic consumption of about 100,000 people and bringing returns on an initial overall investment of ESP 4000 million (i24 million), L—pez de Arroyabe adds.

The Elgea plant has been developed within the region's regulatory framework for energy. This envisages the contribution from renewable sources increasing from the current 2.7% to 12% by 2005, with wind power supplying 3% of the mix following the installation of turbines totalling 125 MW.

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