Kenetech says it took over the expansion of the Tarifa project in good faith. It was told that all permits were valid and that environmental studies had been carried out. To make amends for severe criticism, Kenetech has financed the closure of a nearby rubbish dump which attracted vultures and has asked a British ornithologist to prepare a report on the bird problem. The Spanish government may be using Kenetech as a scapegoat because it would rather see Spanish technology on choice sites.

The Spanish Ornithological Society (SEO) has been campaigning against Kenetech's new Tarifa wind farm of 90 turbines since it was announced. The society -- a branch of the international Birdlife International organisation -- has lodged complaints with the local environmental authorities, the pertinent regional departments of industry and public works, and the European Union (EU). The main thrust of its case against Kenetech is that the site is within a Natural Park and a specially protected area for birds (SPAS) which under Spanish and EU law is out of bounds to any kind of development that endangers wildlife, and therefore is illegal.

Given the complexity and sometimes contradictory legislation at local, regional, national and European level, however, what is right and what is wrong is hard to define. Until recently, wind power was exempt of controls exacted on traditional forms of energy production.

The official line in Spain is that the SEO has greatly exaggerated the dangers of wind power at Tarifa. Luis Blanco, the new president of the regional department of the environment (AMA) -- the previous head now works for Kenetech's former partner Abengoa -- claims the projected wind plant has all the permits necessary. Provisional data from SEO's own study, released in late October by AMA which is financing it, shows "insignificant impact" on the migrating birds at Tarifa. The 37 vultures killed between December 1993 and June 1994 belonged to the local populations, says the report. SEO, however, argues that autumn migration is not over and the preliminary data do not reflect a conclusive picture.

Spanish authorities are keen to see wind power developed at Tarifa and have actively encouraged Kenetech at local, regional and national levels. They do not, however, seem to have informed Kenetech of the complex legal situation and the seriousness of the bird issue prior to closing the deal for an expansion of the existing Tarifa wind farms of some 270 turbines.

Kenetech's Bill Whalen says the bird issue caught the company by surprise. When it took over the project from its former Spanish partner this spring it was understood that all the permits were valid and that environmental impact studies had been approved. "I don't think there was any problem as far as what we knew had to be obtained from the Spanish authorities. As far as they were concerned, they told us it was permitted."

Kenetech has tried to make amends for the Spanish authorities' short-sightedness in their disregard of the conservationists' complaints. The company has financed the closure of a rubbish dump near the site which attracted vultures dangerously close and presented the local town hall with a waste truck to remove the rubbish to an alternative tip. It also hired an independent British ornithologist (see main story).

Sources in the wind industry are now speculating that Kenetech is being used as a scapegoat in Spain, drawing the brunt of conservationist's attacks. It is no secret that wind companies in Spain and the government would prefer to see the domestic industry in the front line, rather than watch foreigners snatch up choice sites. And even as Kenetech is being scrutinised at Tarifa, its former partner, Abengoa, is planning a wind farm further north, in the immediate vicinity of Tarifa where it plans to erect some 100 turbines of its yet untested A300 model.