Bird protectionists seek agreement on further development at Tarifa

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Spain's powerful environmental lobby has got together and pledged to continue support of wind power development in the country. But first government officials must agree to upgrade legislation protecting the habitat of hundreds of thousands of local and migratory birds at future wind farm sites in the Tarifa area.

Last month environmentalists and Spanish officials met to discuss the problem of avian mortality at Tarifa, a huge windy area of southern Spain overlooking the Straits of Gibraltar and home to the largest grouping of wind turbines in Europe. The meeting could prove fundamental to further expansion of the Tarifa wind farms as the European Union seems poised to take a stand on the avian mortality issue.

Sources in Brussels say that EU finance for future farms at Tarifa has been put on hold "indefinitely" until studies -- including a long-term bird study currently being carried out by the Spanish Ornithological Society (SEO) -- reveal whether or not wind turbines have a significant negative impact on the local and migratory bird populations. Officials in Brussels and Madrid will neither confirm nor deny that such a decision has been made. Sources say, though, that a moratorium on the construction of more wind farms is also on the cards in Brussels and that a definitive ban on further development at the current Tarifa site could eventually be implemented.

An official announcement of the Brussels' decision is unlikely, say sources, since a "political" solution outside the realm of legal procedures has been adopted. This means that rather than proceed judicially against Spain, the three European Commission directorates involved in the Tarifa issue -- the DGs for environment, energy and regional development -- have chosen to thrash out an agreement internally and then present it to the Spanish authorities. It is understood that financing for expansion of the existing wind farm, with some 2000 turbines, was used as the main bargaining tool to achieve a breathing space and allow for studies.

Warning from Brussels

"What has happened at Tarifa will almost certainly affect sites elsewhere in that more care will be taken when possible sites for wind schemes are identified," says one Brussels source and warns that the tide could turn against wind power in the EC if the industry is perceived to be irresponsible over the ecological implications of its business.

Evidence of extensive harm to bird life at Tarifa led to demands from environmentalists for a moratorium on future wind farm development, pending a better understanding of the impact of the wind turbines on hundreds of thousands of migratory birds which pass through the area each year (Windpower Monthly, February 1994). Soaring birds, which use thermal updrafts to get airborne, are in particular danger of being killed by wind turbines, say ornithologists.

The environmentalists, representing some of the country's biggest and most respected non government organisations, have been in danger of splitting over their support of wind power because of bird kills at Tarifa. But, following the February report in Windpower Monthly of the views of SEO, subsequently also reported in a major Spanish newspaper, Diario 16, the ranks of the environmentalist have closed firmly behind wind energy again. The wind industry's apparent concern and willingness to consider solutions to the problem was one of the main reasons for the renewed support, says Juan Luis Gonzalez, conservation director for Cadiz Ecologist-Pacifist Federation (FEPG).

He says the environmentalists' meeting with the director of the region's Agencia de Medio Ambiente (AMA), Fernando Mart’nez, was "constructive" and was likely to lead to greater co-operation from all conservation and environmental organisations. Mart’nez, is now studying a document presented by the environmentalists outlining tougher bird protection legislation at Tarifa with a view to signing in the near future. Wind industry chiefs have also been approached and a meeting with the environmentalists has been scheduled later this month. It is likely to pave the way for the expansion of the existing wind farms at Tarifa, once new bird impact studies have pointed the way forward, says Luis Gonzalez.

The environmental organisations first met to discuss the issue in February. The national Association for the Study and Defence of Nature (Aedenat) and Greenpeace had given their unconditional support to the wind farms at Tarifa. But in the face of growing concern shown by their colleagues in the SEO, the FEPG, the Andalusian Pacifist-Ecologist Confederation (CEPA), the Straits' Ornithological Group (GOES) and the Cadiz Association for the Defence of Nature (AGADEN) they were forced to reconsider their position. In March, though, all six organisations signed a document supporting wind power on the condition that proper planning was carried out to safeguard the flora and fauna of Tarifa. It is this document the AMA has been asked to endorse.

The five-point plan includes concrete demands such as the closing down of a refuse dump near the wind farms. Some 30 hungry vultures have been attracted to the dump and then died after colliding with wind turbines. The local Tarifa authority has already agreed to close the dump. More radical solutions, such as shutting down wind turbines with a high bird mortality rate, were rejected by the environmentalists.

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