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Pioneering region on the move again -- Grid approval for 1000 MW

Catalonia in the north east of Spain has finally rubberstamped its wind plan and zoning map, opening the way to 1000-1500 MW of development by 2010. It took the regional government, the Generalitat, three years to make good on its promises. The plan has rolled in on a sudden wave of political enthusiasm for wind, which seems to be melting away some of the main obstacles. Most importantly, regional utility and distributor, Endesa-Fecsa, which has systematically refused to open its grid to wind, has suddenly agreed to allow connection of 24 projects with a combined capacity of some 1000 MW. The Generalitat has also forced the utility to immediately permit the connection of two developments totalling 82 MW for Tarragona province.

Nevertheless, the regional arm of the national renewables producers association, Asociación de Pequeños Productores Autogeneradores (APPA), has not given the expected jump for joy. It points out that during the years of broken promises this once pioneering wind region has stagnated with just 84 MW on-line. The plan, says APPA, can be considered as "nothing more than a first step towards solving a delicate situation within the sector."

Industrial Catalonia, the largest electricity consumer of all Spanish regions, recently slipped from eighth to ninth place in terms of installed wind capacity, overtaken by La Rioja, a small and largely agricultural region, with 104 MW. APPA's Oscar Romero says this need not have happened. Although Catalonia has not followed other regions with a detailed wind plan, "this does not imply a legal vacuum for wind development," as Joan Josep Escobar of Catalonia's energy agency pointed out a few days before the plan was approved. APPA admits that opposition from local conservationists has made wind a painfully sensitive issue in many areas, but mature projects in non-sensitive areas could have gone ahead, it says.

The power wielded by conventional and nuclear energy supporters within the regional industry department seems to have had much to do with the problem. The received wisdom in the wind sector is that the department was trying to reserve chunks of space for conventional generation on a large but increasingly saturated grid. The positive action on the two Tarragona developments now seems to have marked a radical change.

Romero hazards a guess that Endesa-Fecsa's earlier reluctance on connecting any wind project was due to it panicking over the sheer volume of applications. But with 24 of the 53 projects now given priority, the utility and developers have been instructed to form round tables to resolve conflicting grid demands for the remaining projects.

Politics in the way

The regional wind development plan and site selections remain largely unchanged from the version rejected by parliament in March 2001. For APPA this vindicates its belief that wind power was being used as currency in a highly explosive political confrontation in the region at the time. It also reflects what seems to be growing political support for wind. In March, the same parliament unanimously voted to force the Generalitat to rubberstamp its wind regulation. Since then, politicians have been effusing on wind's benefits and slating "short-sighted" conservationist opposition to it.

Escobar is confident that opposition will be swamped by political support by the time the Catalonian wind plan comes up for renewal in 2007. Meantime, the 62.6% of Catalonian territory currently earmarked for development has little in terms of wind resources. Most wind, says Escobar, exists in the more sensitive high grounds not available for development, ruling out some 600 MW of potential.

Softly, softly

To restart wind development on the right foot, the Generalitat seems intent on granting the first few licenses go to non-contentious projects. It has given the go-ahead to two 45 MW projects, by German developer Eólic Partners, in low lying, non-sensitive and privately owned land. Furthermore, both projects aim to install big 2.4 MW turbines, set to put Catalonia back on the map of wind pioneering regions. If not, APPA fears an exodus from Catalonia by the industry -- including by Nordex and NEG Micon, which have bases there.

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