Catalonia weak grid blocks potential -- More than 200 projects caught

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Regional grid weaknesses and obstruction policies on grid interconnection from distributor Endesa are making progress on wind development in the Spanish region of Catalonia -- once a wind energy pioneer -- look increasingly unlikely. "The wind development situation in Catalonia is not at all promising," says Óscar Romero of Spain's renewables producers association, Asociación de Pequeños Productores Autogeneradores (APPA), despite confidence that there is enough political will to push through the regional government's new draft regulation bill for wind in the face of local opposition groups.

Catalonia commissioned wind mapping as early as 1987 but so far it has only seen 72 MW go on-line, with another 13 MW now building. Since then nearly two hundred project applications have met an administrative brick wall, preventing realisation of around 1500 MW of potential, according to regional government estimates. Among these are nearly 600 MW of proposals for 18 wind plant which are languishing in public consultation.

Some observers have come to blame political opposition from the environment department as the main cause of stagnation. But this does not seem to be the case. Since the environment department took over responsibility for wind planning from the industry department last year, including drawing up a wind plant zoning plan, it has taken on wind power as its own cause.

But while wind developers have waited at least five years for political support to gather, the grid situation has worsened. This year's summer season saw more power cuts than ever in Catalonia with increased tourism and extended use of air-conditioning stretching local distribution networks to the limit. The suspicion among many developers is that both Endesa and the industry department old guard want to save any additional grid capacity and new distribution lines -- especially on the Costa Brava -- for conventional generation. Earlier this year the industry department pronounced that more combined cycle gas plant were needed urgently, echoing the utility confederation UNESA as well as the national electricity and energy board, Comisión Nacional de la Energía (Windpower Monthly, July 2001).


Romero feels the main hope for developers resides in the regional government's recent instigation of head to head meetings between developers and Endesa, though he laments that Catalonia is "a long way from establishing a grid improvement plan for wind power on the lines of that implemented in Aragón."

Another hope lies in the draft regulation bill for wind development. Romero explains that the no-go zones on the regional wind development plan apply only to turbines and not to power lines and infrastructure. He believes this concession will help avoid additional complications and costs if and when new developments are given the go-ahead. Furthermore, he says that APPA's call for reducing the time scales involved in issuing verdicts on connection applications has been incorporated in the new bill. The bill also aims to integrate administrative proceedings so that developers will not have to deal with a chain of government departments.

Indeed, APPA's appraisal of Catalonia's wind bill is positive. Although the no-go zones on the plan have been extended, mostly in windy Tarragona with a potential of 800 MW, this reflects government sensitivity to local ecology groups. And any degree of consensus regarding wind in the region can only be a good thing, says APPA's Manuel Bustos.

Meanwhile, calls by many regional developers to go ahead immediately with at least some developments in unrestricted zones do not seem to have gone completely unheeded. Application processing, which practically ground to a halt last year, has cranked into action again. Eight new applications were published for public comment before the summer recess and two developments, totalling 18 MW, have actually received regional government approval, though they still lack local building licenses. The two developers -- Tossa de Vent and Teixte -- are affiliates of Generació d'Energia, which is already behind 37 MW of the region's on-line capacity and has another 13 MW building (Windpower Monthly, April 2000).

With these two new additions, the Catalonia has now approved a total of 43 MW further to the 72 MW on-line. Whether the environmental department's support of wind will be enough to push at least some of these projects through remains to be seen. Many fear that the industry department's old guard, which includes a pro-nuclear element, will do its best to keep the lid on wind.

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