Development in Spain forges ahead in face of environmental opposition

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Despite growing concern over bird deaths at Spain's major wind farm, American company Kenetech is forging ahead with the erection of another 90 wind turbines at the site -- regardless of the opposition from environmentalists. Kenetech's decision to bring forward its construction schedule is also angering European wind turbine manufacturers who fear that by alienating environmental support, the project could whip up a general backlash of opposition to wind energy development.

Work on the new emplacement at Tarifa in southern Spain has already begun and is expected to be completed by the end of this year or by the beginning of 1995. Kenetech says its advanced 33M-VS models will together generate some 30 MW of power, virtually doubling the current output of the existing wind plant's 272 turbines.

The start to development follows hard on the heels of a major row involving government bodies, the industry, environmentalists and the European Union (Windpower Monthly, February 1994). It will undoubtedly further fuel the controversy about bird kills in the Tarifa wind farm, sited on a major migratory route between the European and African continents.

Ornithologists claim that the extension to the wind plant -- formerly two projects now merged into the single Sociedad E—lica de Andalucia (SEA) -- is being sited on a ridge where naturalists have traditionally gathered to watch the passage of migratory birds. Juan Criado, the conservation manager for the Spanish Ornithological Society (SEO), who has had access to the building plans, says the Kenetech turbines could increase the danger for the birds. These include several protected species. Criado says he urged Kenetech vice-president, Bill Whalen, and other company officials who visited Tarifa last month, to delay setting up the turbines until a bird impact study carried out by the SEO and financed by the regional environmental authority, the Andalusian Environment Agency, was finalised at the end of this year. But Kenetech told him that legal and economic commitments prevented the company from doing this. He also says that Kenetech offered SEO the technical support of their Avian Research Task Force to help with the study, but the Spanish ornithologists turned it down, apparently to guarantee their independence.

Kenetech's stance on the birds' issue was partially revealed last month at the American Wind Energy Association's annual conference. At Windpower '94, Dick Curry, manager of environmental research at Kenetech Windpower in California noted the efforts by the firm to mitigate the problem of bird deaths. But he added that it may be that his company will end up paying compensation rather than preventing deaths. He confirmed that Bill Whalen visited Tarifa together with Mark Fuller, Director of the Raptor Research Technical Assistance Centre of Boise State University.

SEO is affiliated with Birdlife International, which has some six million members worldwide. Wind industry observers in Europe now fear this organisation will mobilise against wind plant construction in general. SEO signed an agreement in March with several other environmental organisations pledging support for wind power at Tarifa on the condition that bird safety was taken into account (Windpower Monthly, May 1994) and that there would be no expansion of the existing wind farm until the in-depth bird study was concluded at the end of the year. Kenetech's decision to go ahead with the expansion now seems set to split the hard won environmental support for wind power in Spain, possibly sparking off a new series of protests aimed at halting construction. How successful the protests will be depends on the mood within the environmental movement. Some of the signatories of the pro-wind agreement -- including Greenpeace and Aedenat, one of the most influential environment organisations in Spain -- are strong supporters of wind energy and are unlikely to want to be seen waving anti-windmill banners after having campaigned for years for alternative energy sources.

The conservationists are not the only organisations put out by the start to construction. Other wind power companies in the area have been momentarily denied crucial financial support from the European Commission (EC) for further development at Tarifa until the results of the avian impact study are made known. Kenetech, however, is not dependent on public funds for financing its project. "This project will be funded privately; no subsidies," says Kenetech's European head, Michael Haas. Planning permission was granted before the full extent of the wind plant's impact on bird life at Tarifa was known. Emilio Menédez of Endesa, Spain's biggest public utility, whose subsidiary, MADE, has turbines at Tarifa, says the Spanish industry is still reeling from the shock of Kenetech's decision to go ahead now.

According to Kenetech's spokesman in the US, Bud Grebey, work on the $30 million investment will begin in earnest within the next couple of months and be completed within another six. Bulldozers are already clearing the site. Haas adds: "We complied with all legal requirements and completed a general EIR [Environmental Impact Report)." He says the wind turbines will use lattice towers. The decision to go ahead with the expansion came after Kenetech split with its Spanish partner, Abengoa, two months ago (Windpower Monthly, May 1994). Under the company name, AWP, the two companies operate 154, 56-100 turbines of a Kenetech design made in Spain for the Tarifa project. "The agreement was for the 56-100 technology," Grebey says. "There is no future development planned for that technology in Spain, therefore the split was made." Grebey says Kenetech sold its equity ownership to an Abengoa subsidiary called Desarollos E—licas SA which now has the full maintenance and operations contract for the original machines. In exchange, Kenetech's British branch, Kenetech Ltd, got the sole development rights for the new Tarifa plant. Kenetech now operates in Spain under the name K W Tarifa SA. It was not reported whether the 33M-VS turbines would be built in Spain or shipped from the US.

Power from the Spanish project is to be supplied to Spanish utility Sevillana, says Haas. This will either be directly or through SEA. Under Spanish legislation, purchase of wind produced energy is guaranteed by law at ESP 11/kWh ($0.08/kWh), ESP 3/kWh more than the price paid for electricity from conventional power plant.

Astute move

According to observers Kenetech made an astute decision in going ahead immediately with installation of the 90 turbines. Close to the existing wind farm, the development is regarded as an "extension" to the plant now in operation and planning permission for erection of wind turbines on the whole area has already been pushed through. Early objections from environmentalists were dismissed on the basis of an existing -- although disputed -- bird impact study drawn up for the AWP project.

The extension to the AWP development was also excluded from an ordinance survey of the Tarifa area currently being carried out by the local town council. This will not be completed for several months. A spokesman from the environment agency seemed surprised by the news that bulldozers were already at work clearing scrub on the site, expressing his conviction that the American company was still "shuffling papers."

Meanwhile, Emilio Menéndez of Endesa says the speed with which Kenetech has moved in on Spain has caused great concern not only to the wind industry in Spain, but also in the rest of Europe. "I believe that European industries ought to defend their territory, especially in the field of renewables and this view is shared by many European companies with whom I have discussed the developments at Tarifa in recent days. We are all very concerned," he says. He particularly objects to an American company availing itself of European subsidies, but seems to ignore the fact that wind subsidies in the US are open to Europeans, who have benefited from them for years. According to Menéndez Spain is also drafting legislation to increase wind power payments.

Spanish government authorities have not yet officially reacted to Kenetech's fast start to its Tarifa expansion.

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