Utility group softens its opposition -- The Iberdrola influence

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Vociferous opposition to wind power in Spain from the politically powerful national utility association, Unesa, is dwindling now that the second largest of its four members, Iberdrola, is stepping up its activities in the sector. Iberdrola's stake in the ownership of 1550 MW of operational wind plant is making it difficult, if not self-destructive, for Unesa to keep up its opposition to wind.

The shift in Unesa's attitude increases the likelihood of a favourable result for the wind sector from the ongoing talks on a new wind tariff in Spain. The new mood could also ease the way for a specific grid connection regulation for renewables, currently on the table at the central energy department.

Traditionally, Unesa has led anti-wind lobbying in Spain, bringing enormous pressure to bear on the energy secretariat -- not to mention the national press -- during the run up to all but one of the past four adjustments to the wind tariff. In its campaigns, Unesa has cited excessive and increasing costs to the electricity system of Spain's wind boom. Prior to this year's revision, however, Unesa abstained from passing judgement at the electricity board's annual tariff committee. The deafening silence came despite massive divestment of their wind assets by utilities Endesa and Unión Fenosa. The fourth Unesa member, Hidrocantábrico, has also shown signs of easing up on its renewables commitment.

Despite Unesa's apparent softening, Spain's renewables association, Asociación de Pequeños Productores Autogeneradores (APPA), warns that it expects to encounter individual opposition to wind from its three non-renewables utility members. This is especially true of Endesa, Spain's largest coal burner, which is none too pleased about being forced to restrict its more expensive coal and oil fired generation at times when wind production -- which has priority access to the grid -- is high.

Powerful opponent

Endesa is armed with powerful weapons. It has control over large pockets of Spain's electricity distribution network -- including applications for connecting to it. The terms of the promised new grid connection regulation will decide just how effective Endesa's weapons will be in the future.

Iberdrola stormed the wind stage after its 982 MW wind plant purchase deal with Gamesa in October and its more recent inheritance of 820 MW of operating wind plant from its divorce with developer Energía Hidroeléctrica de Navarra. The utility aims to have 3500 MW of wind on its books by 2006.

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