Lots of development but grid lock threatens -- Spain vies for second place

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Estimates of the volume of wind power capacity online in Spain, always the subject of controversy, vary even more wildly for 2002 than for previous years. According to the national renewables association, Spain is now just ahead of the United States with a total of 4830 MW online, following the connection of 1493 MW in 2002. One major developer, however, insists that last year's new capacity cannot possibly exceed 825 MW.

Just to add to the confusion, reports from wind turbine makers indicate they supplied more than 2000 MW (table), while Felix Avia at the state-run energy research centre, Ciemat, is reporting 1440 MW to the International Energy Agency, arguably representing the closest to an official figure. In theory that figure should come from the national energy agency, Intitúto para la Diversificación y Ahorro de la Energía (IDAE), but it is unable to supply an estimate. In the absence of an official tally, the total being promoted by the renewables association, Asociación de Productores de Energias Renovables (APPA), is the one being widely adopted so far.

Regardless of which end of the scale the true figure lies, Spain's wind performance by the end of 2002 was a great improvement on its mid-year achievement of 350 MW. Whether 2003 will follow a similar pattern remains to be seen. This year opened with an 8% drop in the wind production incentive, or prima (premium), which is paid on top of a pool market reference price. The incentive is now EUR 0.02664/kWh. Spain's other payback option, the little used fixed tariff, was cut by 1% to EUR 0.06217/kWh. APPA claims the real inflation-linked value of the prima has now dropped by 30.52%.


The good news is that energy secretary Jose Folgado has promised to incorporate "medium and long term predictability for renewables investors" in the revision of the tariff law -- Decree 2818 -- scheduled for completion by the end of this month. Developers hope this means scrapping annual tariff revisions. "Longer-term tariff stability is more important for investors than shoring up the annual adjustments," says Diego Contreras of developer Alabe.

The big challenge for Spanish wind is limited grid capacity. The traditionally anti-wind grid operator, Red Electrica de España (REE), suddenly started backing plans last year to absorb 4000 MW each in the regions of Castile-La Mancha and Andalucia. REE has also collaborated with Castile and León's 3000 MW target and is studying how to connect the 2700 MW planned for Valencia.

But the sudden wind friendliness is double-edged. REE advised the government on the new national energy bill, which caps Spanish wind at 13,000 MW. Previously the government just had minimum target of 9000 MW. The bill also gives REE the right shut down wind plant during periods of low demand, until just 5000 MW is running, all in the name of grid stability. Going by APPA's figures, producers could be entering the shutdown threshold in just over two years. Insiders are beginning to see the bill as a ploy to push the sector into accepting some extra financial incentives in return for allowing wind production to be governed by the rules of supply and demand, in competition with established power technologies.

In efforts to solve the grid-lock, many regions are emulating Aragón's example in bringing together developers, the regional distributor and REE to thrash out solutions and to pool developer resources for financing infrastructure. The regions of Andalucia and Castile-La Mancha are especially active on this front. On-going grid improvements in leading wind region Galicia will also make way for about 350 MW annually, according to Manuel Pazo of the regional wind association, Ega. Galician regulation introduced at the end of 2001 restricts new installed capacity to 350-400 MW.

Other regional approaches to the grid problem involve freezing development, while wind moratoria have been called on new projects in Cantabria, so far with no wind capacity, and La Rioja, with a total of 204 MW online and a further 140 MW authorised. Catalonia's distributor, Endesa, is still reluctant to connect any more wind plant and development has stagnated.

If consumers, however, start choosing green power, demand could soar. As of January, domestic as well as large-scale power consumers are now free to choose their supplier. The utilities are reportedly looking at ways to access a potentially lucrative green power market by selling renewables production to consumers via commercial agents. Electra Norte, a small trader in Asturias region, has contrived its own system of doing just that (Windpower Monthly, November 2002).

Discussion has also started on developing a long term policy that removes wind from the subsidy support machine and integrates it into the power market. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) recently sponsored a conference into the potential in Spain for setting a renewables mandate and requiring electricity retailers to buy green power certificates in order to meet it. Iberdrola says it fears such a system could add 5-10% to electricity bills. But WWF's Heiki Willstedt points out that in the Netherlands a system of tax rebates offsets any extra costs of buying green power. Spain's new wind industry lobby, Plataforma Eólica Empresarial, is also supportive of moving away from price subsidies and intends to have a proposal for a green certificate pilot scheme ready by the end of the year.

Growing up

A notable feature of the Spanish scene in 2002 was the growth of wind turbines, a trend headed by Nordex and GE Wind. Out of the 276 MW of GE turbines online -- all produced at its Spanish facility in Toledo -- the 1.5 MW unit accounts for 184.5 MW, with 66 MW going up last year. The company also put up a 3.6 MW prototype in Albacete. Despite Nordex's head start with megawatt machines, it sold no turbines in Spain last year, though director Norbert Dwenger says the company is building 100 MW around the country.

Spain's own manufacturers are also making bigger turbines. Made Tecnologías, the wind turbine manufacturing wing that utility Endesa has put up for sale, says it installed 17 of its 1320 MW machine last year and 124 of the 800 kW model. Of firm orders for 305 MW, Made claims 174 MW to be for the 1320 kW turbine. Gamesa Eólica launched its 1.5 MW machine last year, on the heels of its 2 MW model. But it appears that only a mere handful have gone up. The vast bulk of the 839 MW from 2002 is made up of the 850 kW unit. Izar, Spain's producer of technology from Denmark's Bonus, made a come-back on the back of megawatt machines following a year-long slump. The company put up 42 MW last year, 7.8 MW in 1.3 MW machines. Izar claims to have a further 184 MW building, 144 MW using 1.3 MW machines.

Veteran manufacturer Ecotècnia says it installed 185 MW in 2002, with only one megawatt rated prototype running. Developer Enerfin, however, says it has ordered 189 Ecotècnia 1.67 MW machines -- and Ecotècnia claims a sizeable portfolio for the turbine. NEG Micon's Spanish turbine division stayed within the 750-900 kW band last year. It made noticeable gains on the market, however, with just under half of the total it has sold to Spain going up last year, thanks largely to its own massive 235 MW La Plana/La Muela development in Aragón.

While direct drive technology has made few inroads, Germany's Enercon is currently building a facility to provide the 608 MW that consortium Gaudalaviar has approval to proceed with, mostly in 2 MW machines. Spanish engineering firm M Torres has also produced three prototypes of a 1.5 MW direct drive turbine, which it plans to fit soon with carbon fibre blades.

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