A small but lively newcomer

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As a case study of the frantic melee of wind development in Spain, the small region of Asturias is a classic example. The government there is overrun with wind plant applications, with developers scrapping over the same sites and all with plans to feed power into a grid which is grossly underdimensioned for the job. The government's first response has been to slap a 120 MW limit on wind development

The small mountainous mining region of Asturias, on Spain's northern coast, has just celebrated its first wind power conference at which the Junta (regional government) stressed its commitment to the clean energy technology on the one hand, while announcing an initial 120 MW ceiling on development on the other. Javier Fernandez, who heads Asturias' Department of Industry, Commerce and Tourism, insists the limit applies only to "the first term of 2000."

A further two wind plant are expected to be approved by the end of the year to meet Asturias' declared 300 MW limit, which would account for just under 10% of the region's total installed electricity generating capacity of 3300 MW. It is unlikely, however, that more than the 120 MW will go on line within the next two years given the limited capacity of the regional grid.

Thus, despite the general enthusiasm shown by conference participants, which included regional authorities, turbine manufacturers, financial entities, unions and ecologists, the event was overshadowed by this limit and other barriers to wind development in the region. Nevertheless, Fernandez did promise speedy processing of applications: the first two site licenses will be granted by April.

The two-day event came on the heels of a new law passed by the Junta to regulate the wind development rush sweeping Asturias. So far there are 32 wind plant development applications on the desk of the regional industry ministry. They amount to a combined installed capacity of 850 MW.

Four fight it out

There are currently four main developers whose wind development applications for sites in Asturias have advanced beyond the initial stage of informacion publica, or public provision. This is a month long period in which objections to a specific development are received.

The developing companies include Sinae, the renewables affiliate of utility Hidroelectra del Cantabrico, with six applications totalling 208 MW (Windpower Monthly, February 2000). All six have passed through informacion publica and must now wait until the Junta's environmental impact study is complete.

Sinae used both the 330 kW and 660 kW fixed pitch turbines from MADE Tecnologias in its earlier projects. MADE is the manufacturing arm of Spain's largest utility, Endesa. Recently, Sinae has been installing 660 kW variable pitch turbines from Gamesa, the Spanish manufacturer of Vestas technology. Sinae is not yet prepared to offer any hint as to which technology it is opting for in Asturias. Nor is it prepared to confirm whether or not it has studied the possibility of using either MADE's new variable pitch 850 kW machine or its fixed pitch 1300 kW model, both of which were publicly presented for the first time during the Asturias conference.

One of Sinae's site applications, for 47 MW in the municipality of Salas, is referred to by Sinae as "Curiscao." The same site, however, is the subject of an application by an independent Spanish newcomer, Northeolic. It refers to the site as Aguion and has plans for 46 MW there. Northeolic's Lorenzo Herrero Vallejo says his company has offered Sinae a deal to split the site equally and that they are waiting for a response.

Northeolic is behind both the Pico de Gallo 25 MW development, at 1000 metres above sea level in the municipality of Tineo, and the Bodenaya 20 MW development, at 800 metres in the municipality of Salas. These are rumoured to be firm favourites for receiving definitive approval. They were also the first two applications to go beyond informacion publica and to enter into the environmental impact study stage.

Although Northeolic's director, Eduardo Gomez-Acebo, remains tight-lipped on the wind resources at these sites -- and such reticence is increasingly the case in Spain -- at the conference he boasted that "a picnic on either of the sites would be a very challenging affair." Although nothing has been signed yet, Northeolic has been in lengthy negotiations with German company Nordex with a view to buying its 1300 kW wind turbine for all its developments.

Terranova, which split from SeaWest in 1998 to go it alone in Spain, has passed four applications through the informacion publica stage totalling 105 MW. So far Terranova has used Baz‡n Bonus turbines from Galicia in all of its developments, but as yet is unable to confirm whether this would also be the case in Asturias.

The fourth developer is another newcomer, Cantaber Generacion Eolica. This company has got one application through informacion publica.

Legal hitch

Thirteen of the 32 applications on the minister's desk were presented as early as 1996 and belong to one single developer, Promocion Industrial y Gestion, a member of the Premeal Group. This group has 135 MW of wind plant up and running in a six plant group known as Plana de Zaragoza in the region of Aragon. Furthermore, it claims to have presented projects to install a total of 5000 MW nationwide.

The fact that its applications for Asturias precede the new regulatory framework means, according to the Junta, that the developer must incorporate changes to its plans if they are to be eligible for approval. Hector Garcia, director of Promocion Industrial y Gestion, maintains, however, that the new regulation does not bear any relationship to procedures undertaken under the old legal framework. The polemic is aggravated by industry in-fighting over the sites available: ten of the company's applications coincide with sites picked by other developers, most noticeably Terranova and Sinae. It is possible the issue will be settled in the region's courtrooms.

Beyond the limit

The indications are that prospective developers are banking on the 300 MW limit being raised. Indeed, Luis Corts Lagos, a civil engineer for an independent developer, insists there are at least 30 wind measuring towers away from Tineo and Salas, the two municipalities where the vast majority of the 850 MW applications are focussed. Given the fact that the Junta's new regulations require each application to be backed by a minimum of one year's wind measurements, there is plenty of time for more applications to accrue; but will there be room for them?

The 300 MW ceiling was confirmed by the state run renewables agency Instituto para la Diversificaci—n y Ahoro de la Energia (IDAE) in its 1999 statement on the Spanish wind power sector. But the figures endorsed by IDAE vary in accuracy depending on the region referred to. Castilla la Mancha (New Castile), for example, does not even appear as a contributor in IDAE's 1999 regional potential table (which puts the national potential at 8300 MW). Yet this region connected 112 MW of turbines to the grid in 1999. Furthermore, Castilla la Mancha has since become the target of a series of large development plans outlined in the infamous Planes Estrategicos, or Strategic Plans, some of which aim to install well over 1000 MW.

IDAE's wind sector overview includes projected wind capacities for regions where no serious wind measurement data is available, unlike the case of Asturias, according to Javier Mendez, head of the Asturias energy department. Even where extensive measurements are available to IDAE, they are often outdated, as in the case of Catalonia. Here wind data from 1987, based on measurements taken at just seven metres, well below the hub height of today's state-of-the-art turbines, is used to establish a 300 MW potential for the region. Now there are claims, though probably exaggerated, that 1000 MW is technically and environmentally viable in the Catalonian province of Tarragona alone. No wonder developers with their eyes on Asturias are expecting the ceiling to eventually be raised.

The limited capacity of the Asturian grid might well scuttle these hopes, at least in the short term. The region already produces more electric power than it consumes and, as a net exporter, its electricity transport system is running close to the limit. This is particularly true of the high-tension lines in the west, which go to feed Old Castile. And it is precisely here, on the border with Spain's windiest region, Galicia (with a projected wind plant potential in excess of 2750 MW), that the vast majority of the 32 licence applications are concentrated.

At the conference, Jesus Urrutia, Director General of the Asturias industry ministry, did not overtly link the grid's capacity to the initial 120 MW restriction. Indeed, he preferred to emphasise careful planning and respect for the environment as the main motives behind his decision, while insisting that the Junta is looking to grant more licenses towards the end of the year.

This attitude was reiterated by Javier Menem who maintained that "the future of wind power in Asturias depends very much on the experience of the first 120 MW installed."

Nevertheless, Luis Martin Gomez of Red Electrica Espanola, the company which owns the Asturias grid, says that until the planned 1000 MW reinforcement of the high tension connection between Asturias and Castilla Leon is carried out, then 120 MW will remain as the physical limit of what the grid can take in terms of wind capacity. Even if a recent bid to reach an agreement on grid improvement comes to fruition, Gomez maintains: "We would still be talking about 18 months to two years as a reasonable period before the 300 MW could be transported."

Sensitive ecosystem

Although the focus on environmental restrictions might be seen as a shift of emphasis away from the most pressing problem, there can be no doubt that Asturias constitutes one of Spain's most sensitive, revered and protected ecosystems. Not only does it provide a natural habitat for species as rare as the brown bear but, as a natural beauty spot, it also brings the region an important source of tourist income.

Urrutia insists that, "We do not want turbine blades to drastically transform our countryside." It would seem, then, that the Junta enjoys consensus with Greenpeace and the national ecologist groups Ecologistas en Accion and AEDENAT, who were all present at the conference.

Avoiding thermal devastation

AEDENAT's Antonio Lucena Bonny summarised this consensus when he said: "I believe we are all in agreement with the idea that the worst wind plant is better than the best conventional thermal plant, but that even so we must take the greatest care in reducing environmental impact to the absolute minimum."

The one voice of dissent came from the regional ecologist group ANA, which maintained that if Asturias is a net exporter of energy, why produce more? ANA emphasised that the four thermal plant responsible for 80% of the region's power production, together with the hydroelectric plant that provide the remaining 20%, have already had a sufficiently devastating impact on the environment.

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