Industry moves in on huge new area with half a dozen major projects


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A series of wind farm projects in Spain's north central Navarra region will boost the country's installed generating capacity by 100 MW within the next five years, contributing critically to the country's bid to become a wind energy super power by the turn of the century. The announcement follows a flurry of activity in Spain as an increasing number of companies battle for their share of the market.

The five or six wind farms proposed for the Navarra region are to be developed by Energia Hidroeléctrica de Navarra (EHN), a firm made up of public and private companies which until now has been mainly involved in mini-hydroelectric power schemes. The first batch of turbines planned for the region are Vestas machines from Denmark. The initial wind plant will be made up of six 500 kW turbines in the windswept Monte Perd—n valley, to be installed by the end of the year. They will produce enough energy to power the entire street lighting network of Pamplona -- the community's main city of 184,000. And if the project proves a success, a total of 200 similar turbines will be erected in the region within another five years.

The proposed 100 MW of wind energy development is the result of a policy to base the region's power producing structure on environmentally benign systems, like wind power and mini-hydraulic power stations. "Navarra has the natural resources to produce all the power it consumes without producing CO2 emissions," EHN's managing director Esteban Morr‡s told the Diario de Navarra newspaper. "Proper use of the elements," he adds, "can produce spectacular results."

Governed by this philosophy, EHN -- made up of the region's autonomous government, the Iberdrola power company and cement company, Cementos Portland -- has been discreetly probing the 10,500 square kilometre region for solar and wind resources for the past three years. A grid of some 28 wind and solar energy measuring stations distributed around the region has identified at least eight potential sites for wind farms with annual wind speed averages of over 6 m/s. "According to the weathermen, in the Navarra region you have what they call the corner effect. The wind blows from west to east, hugging the Cantabrian range until it is forced through a mountain pass from where it sweeps across Navarra on its way to the Ebro river valley," says Morr‡s.

Plans for the wind power projects in Navarra were apparently organised at the same time as a series of talks between the Spanish Gamesa firm and the Danish Vestas company. These resulted in concrete plans in mid June with a deal to set up a joint venture enterprise, Gamesa E—lica, for the construction of Vestas 500 kW turbines in Spain. Gamesa is part owned by the same power company that has shares in EHN.

Details of the deal remain sketchy and in some cases are contradictory. The companies involved are generally unwilling to discuss their plans, fearing the stiff competition they face on the rapidly evolving Spanish wind energy market. A director for Gamesa, Alvaro Marortua, says the first six turbines will be directly imported from Denmark and the deal will eventually allow for Spanish companies to build turbine components. This strategy follows that already set by two firms in Navarra: one in Alasua which builds wind turbine towers and one in Tudela which build blades for export. But EHN says that Gamesa E—lica plans to build a turbine factory for the construction of Vestas-designed machines in Navarra, "80% of which would be Spanish-built." Both sources agree, however, that Gamesa E—lica would be building production-line turbines for siting in Spain and for export.

Overlooked location

News of the project poposals has come as a surprise to the Spanish wind industry. Navarra has been long been overlooked by experts who attached greater importance to Tarifa in southern Spain, the Canary Islands and Galicia in the northwest. The projects are likely to anger the national manufacturers and central government authorities who have been fighting to ensure Spanish technology gets a sure footing on home soil before foreign firms become established. They are still reeling from the shock of a sudden bid by American company Kenetech to build a new 30 MW wind plant at Tarifa (Windpower Monthly, May 1994).

Indeed, why EHN, whose managing director, Angel Rodriguez San Vicente, is the regional community's industry minister, turned to Gamesa -- a firm relatively new to the wind industry -- and not an established national firm remains a mystery. Observers believe the key to the deal lies in utility Iberdrola, which has interests in both EHN and Gamesa. Also, EHN says the Vestas machines proved to be the most suitable for the job. "Vestas is one of the few companies that has developed a reliable 500 kW machine and for Navarra, where strong wind patterns are located in very specific locations, we needed machines capable of high productivity rather than lots of clusters spread over huge tracts of terrain," says a spokesperson for the company. For its part, Vestas might have laid down the law regarding its partnership with a future Spanish company, following its abortive attempt to start manufacture and development of wind plants in the Canary Islands. This deal was allegedly scuppered by island utility Unelco, a subsidiary of the national power company Endesa, which makes its own wind turbines under the MADE name (Windpower Monthly, January 1994). Unelco is blamed for blocking efforts to connect wind turbines to the grid on the island of Fuerteventura. A project on Fuerteventura finally went ahead using MADE turbines. It seems, with the Navarra proposals, that Vestas might now have taught the Spanish power industry a tough lesson in business ethics.

In terms of installed wind power capacity, Spain currently ranks fifth in Europe after Denmark, Germany, Britain and the Netherlands with some 62 MW, 23 MW of which is on the Canary Islands. The 100 MW Navarra project, coupled with other plans already underway, will keep Spain among the leaders in the European rankings with at least 200 MW in the ground by 2000.

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