But just how serious? So many projects have been announced over the past few years that if all had got off the ground Spain would by now be well ahead of both Germany and Denmark as the biggest wind power country in Europe. The real picture is a deal more realistic, but far from depressing. "We are getting close to the 250 MW mark," says Enrique Soria, a former wind technician with the state run scientific research centre, Centro de Investigaciones Energeticas Medioambientales y Tecnologicas (CIEMAT) and one of Spain's most informed industry observers. "By the end of the year, another 200 will be in the ground making up a grand total of 400 MWÉ and those are conservative estimates."
According to the Institute for the Diversification and Conservation of Energy (IDAE), Spain has almost reached the government's target for the entire decade -- 275 MW -- and by the end of the year will have doubled that figure. In one region alone, Galicia in the northwest, authorities foresee 1000 MW of wind power stations feeding electricity into the grid before the end of the century.
Navarra and Galicia
But it is in Navarra that it is all happening right now. There an alliance of the BBV bank and the Iberdrola power company, IBV, is working with the regional government and the regional power company to execute one of the most ambitious wind power schemes spawned: to supply most if not all of the electrical power needs of the entire regional autonomy and its population of half a million.
With 40, 500 kW turbines at Monte del Perdon and 56, 600 kW machines at two other wind stations -- Leiza and Guerinda -- already up and running, the beautiful region of Navarra has indeed become Spain's showcase for wind power. Infinite care has been taken to safeguard all aspects of the environment, according to Gamesa Eolica President Juan Ramon Jimenez, while employment is provided for locals through three factories and assembly plants. By 2010 the province will boast some 600 MW of installed wind capacity at least.
Although Navarra might be considered Spain's wind power capital for the sheer speed of installation, it is not the only place in the country where the action is. In Galicia, a vast region with huge swathes of sparsely populated areas on Spain's far northwest, the Xunta (the regional government) has so far said it will accept 5000 MW of wind plant and hopes to see 1000 MW in the ground before the end of 1999.
According to Jaime Varela, of the Xunta's mine and energy department, two wind power stations -- with a combined capacity of 36 MW -- are up and ready to be connected to the grid, one at Malpica and another at Capellada, developed by Spanish wind firm Ecotècnia and the Endesa wind subsidiary, Made. Another five or six wind plant construction licenses are to be finalised this year, adds Varela, and construction of these projects should begin well before the year is out.
In Aragon's La Muela, not far from Zaragoza -- on a desert-like wind swept plain -- Gamesa Eolica has put up a new wind plant, La Plana 3, in a record six months, adding 15 MW to the 37 MW the company already has sited in the region.
Looking really good
And so it goes on. In Andalucia, Catalunya and on the Canary Islands it is the same story of projects going ahead. "It really looks good for wind power in Spain. It looks really good," says Antoni Mart’nez of the Ecotècnia wind turbine manufacturing co-operative based in Barcelona.
Mart’nez should know. His company, a small but dynamic organisation made up of prudent economists, top technicians and committed environmentalists, was the first all-Spanish company to export wind turbines overseas and still remains the only Spanish company to have done so, ahead of such giants as the utility subsidiary Endesa-Made and Desarrollos Eolicos of the Abengoa conglomerate, which developed most of the Tarifa wind farms.
Indeed, Ecotècnia is almost ready to begin commercial production of its 600 kW turbine and is to start up a factory in Galicia for their manufacture. It finished one wind farm in India in September, in the state of Gujarat near the Pakistan border, and has another ready to come on line in March in Spain -- a Catalunyan project which will harbour its new 600 kW turbine.
"What made Spain seem as if it had lost steam -- in wind power terms at least -- was the political and economic insecurity prior to the most recent general elections which ushered in a Conservative government," says Mart’nez. "You also had the problem of the so-called power protocol. Nobody knew which way that was going to swing and, until that was signed, the banks were reluctant to commit themselves. We've also seen a drop in interest rates. That's been very beneficial and financial institutions outside the realm of wind power are seeing for themselves that wind power is working, that it does pay dividends and therefore they are ready to put up the money."
Perhaps the most important indicator of any nation's commitment to wind power, though, is the willingness of the authorities to support the development of wind power through subsidies, tax relief or premium prices. In Spain, the authorities are supplying all three.
As recently as mid February, the director general of IDAE, Concha Canovas del Castillo, announced it would be handing out ESP 10.1 billion ($70.6 million) for renewable energy projects, including wind, in 1997 (see box). Concha del Castillo was also one of the first to reassure the industry, in the wake of the government change, that premium prices for wind power would be retained at approximately ESP 2.0/kWh above the price paid for conventionally generated electricity, at least until the year 2000.
Meantime, tax rebates are being offered in Navarra. The local regional government, Gobierno Foral, passed a law in December which allows wind power producers in the region to deduct up to 15% of their earnings from wind power before handing in their tax returns.
scramble for technicians
There are other indicators of the growing interest in wind power in Spain, in particular the scramble among wind plant developers to find qualified staff. Enrique Soria, who recently relinquished his post at CIEMAT to join a private wind power company, ALABE, is the ninth person to abandon the CIEMAT wind division in recent months -- quite a record for a nation with little job mobility among the scientific community. "Yes, it would really seem as if Spain is on the move," says Soria who is now head of the wind division at ALABE, a subsidiary of one of Spain's biggest construction firms, Entrecanales. ALABE has a stake in the 30 MW Tarifa wind plant in Andalucia in southern Spain, bought from US company Kenetech, and is charged with maintenance of the 90, 330 kW turbines there.
ALABE is also planning to expand its wind operations at a brisk pace, moving fast in the race for Galician territory in the northwest where it has been allotted terrain for 240 MW of wind plant that was originally earmarked for now bankrupt Kenetech. According to Soria, ALABE will be using Micon machines from Denmark.
The dip in the graph of Spain's commitment to wind over the past two or three years would seem to have only been circumstantial. The initial excitement of the early 1990s was braked somewhat to allow the industry to catch its breath and allow the authorities to impose certain restrictions to ensure "sustainable development" for wind power rather than follow "the California experience," where environmentalists are up in arms over what they allege is serious damage to the landscape. The Spanish approach to wind development would seem to be working. From here to the end of the millennium, Spain looks to be well on the way to becoming the biggest wind power market in Europe.