Renewed but tempered growth in Spain

Several regions have either finished or improved their strategic development plans for wind power, setting the scene for the next great development push. Nearly 1800 MW is operating on mainland Spain today, and the country would seem well on the way to achieving its goal of 9000 MW of wind power by 2010. But serious challenges could get in the way: lack of grid capacity, administrative delays and environmental opposition. This report, accompanied by extensive tables of wind farms on line and projects on the way, takes an in-depth look at the situation in this dynamic market.

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Lack of grid capacity and administrative bottlenecks are still slowing wind's progress in Spain despite the completion of strategic plans in four more regions and the lifting of moratoriums on development elsewhere. Environmental opposition is also building against big wind farms

The eight starring regions of strong wind development on mainland Spain are preparing for another surge of growth -- and on paper everything looks promising. Castilla la Mancha, Valencia, Castille and León, and Catalonia are putting the finishing touches to their long awaited strategic development plans, which are expected to jump-start year long delays and moratoria in those areas. A conservative estimate finds more than 4500 MW of new potential in those four regions alone. Meanwhile, Andalusia is finally ready to move again as the first applications for new wind plant are processed now that the regional government has finalised its rigourous environmental impact requirements. And Galicia, which like Navarra and Aragón has long had a regional wind plan in place, is planning to improve its successful plan to make investment more attractive to developers.

With a total operating capacity in the country of about 1760 MW today, Spain would seem well on the way to achieving its goal of 9000 MW of wind power by 2010. But three tough challenges could get in the way: lack of grid capacity, environmental and local opposition, and administrative delays at the regional and local level.

Spain's major power generators, its electricity distribution companies, and the owner of the national grid, Red Eléctrica Española (REE), are increasingly concerned about their capacity to absorb the extra load of more wind plant (page 39). Such worry is exacerbated by the uncertainty over official regional targets. Those proposed by Spain's renewable energy agency, Institúto para la Diversificatión y Ahorro de la Energía (IDAE), are far less ambitious than those made by most of the regions, suggesting that IDAE's guidance is not to be trusted. In its renewables support plan, IDAE's objective for Catalonia is 425 MW, whereas even the most radical opponents to Catalonia's wind planning now consider 1000 MW to be appropriate for the province of Tarragona alone. Similarly, Castille and León's Plan Eólico allows for 2980 MW of wind power, while IDAE expects 850 MW.

As it is, the majority of applications for new wind development are for areas with little or no distribution infrastructure or where existing lines are already saturated. As proposed, the projects are not feasible. The small region of Asturias has had to keep its current wind target down to 120 MW due to grid restrictions (Windpower Monthly, March 2000). Similarly, 117 development applications in Murcia remain on the drawing board pending improvements of poor distribution networks. In Castille and León's province of Segovia there are applications to develop more than 400 MW of wind plant, though REE's Luis Martín points out that peak demand in the region is only about 80 MW, slumping to 20-30 MW at night. He asks how developers think Unión Fenosa, the local utility and distribution company, is supposed to deal with this? At the same time, further massive proposed wind developments for Galicia and Aragón are dependent upon the final outcome of negotiations for grid and distribution improvements.

Despite a generally positive approach to fixing the problem among REE and the utilities, practical matters are something else entirely, explains Martín. "It's impossible to install a 220 kV substation in less than 18 months," he says. "In the case of a new 440 kV line of, say, just 100 kilometres, we are talking about three years of administrative procedure plus another 18 months construction work." Such time scales do not bode well for developers in the far-flung corners of Spain, especially in the light of growing opposition from environmentalists and local "not in my backyard" protests of new projects.

Uncertain goodwill

The main fear of Spain's renewables producers' association, APPA, is that the current show of goodwill by REE and utilities could dissipate quickly. APPA's Manuel de Delas points out that wind plant are legally guaranteed free access to local distribution networks as long as the networks can absorb the extra load. But if they cannot, the developer must finance the necessary improvements.

"Fair enough," says Delas. "But there is no mechanism by which the developers can verify any distribution company's claim that it really cannot absorb the extra load." APPA calls for the systematic application of much more detailed connection legislation, along with two proposals: either that an independent body be set up to verify local distribution capacity, or that a statutory levy be established by which wind power producers pay the distribution company a connection fee proportionate to the energy generated by any given wind plant. This would mean that the distributor would have to foot the bill for any improvements required.

It is Spain's utilities, however, which are indirectly behind the bulk of wind power activity in the country (Windpower Monthly, October 1999). This leaves utilities negotiating with themselves for much of the grid improvements needed. Utility Iberdrola has major shares in both EHN and Gamesa, by far Spain's leading wind company. Spain's second largest manufacturer, MADE, is affiliated to the country's leading utility, Endesa. Developer Sinae, affiliated to the fourth largest utility, Hidocantábrico, has applications amounting to 744 MW by 2003, with 87 MW already installed in Castille and León. It remains to be seen if the utilities will give connection preference to their own affiliates, or be scrupulously fair in their dealings with both utility and non-utility wind plant developers.

Follow the leaders

The environment and industry departments of Castilla la Mancha and Valencia have now joined Castille and León and Catalonia in getting their regional wind development plans in order (Windpower Monthly, June 2000). All the plans are expected to be in operation by the end of the summer except for that of Valencia, which is several months behind.

The regions discovered that the way to a successful conclusion of the plan-making process lay in a mix of political will, careful planning, environmental sensitivity and a good dose of patience. These tips came from Galicia, Navarra and Aragón, the top three regions in terms of installed wind capacity (table). In their integrated wind plans, Planes Eólicos, Galicia and Aragón demand that developers proposing to build more than one site present strategic industrial plans which must ensure the creation of regional wealth, infrastructures and employment; overall environmental impact must also be documented.

Once this blueprint is approved by the regional government, the developer has preferential rights to develop sites within the broad geographical area of its strategic plan. No competing developer can move into the area until either the developer or regional government discard a particular site.

In Galicia, says Juan Caamaño, director of regional energy agency INEGA, this approach has staved off the massive influx of site applications that has brought development to a halt in other regions. "Given the fact that the potential magnitude of future development and its industrial and socio-economic repercussions were clear right from the start, all relevant regional departments were involved in forging out Galicia's wind plan -- especially the industry and environment departments," Caamaño says. Thus, Galicia avoided the interdepartmental impasse which has practically brought wind development to a halt in Andalusia and Catalonia.

Lifting the lid

Andalusia, however, now looks set to lift the lid it slammed on further projects in the region in 1998 now that developers are beginning to meet the regional government's exacting and time-costly requirements. A special agreement last year between grid company REE and the environment and industry departments put a ceiling of 400 MW on new wind development in the municipal area of Tarifa (Windpower Monthly, September 1999).

In order to expedite the approval process, the environment department has required potential developers in Andalusia to present an exhaustive environmental impact study together with detailed wind measurements -- both taken over a 12 month period. Until all 400 MW are approved, no plant construction will be allowed. REE has demanded, as part of the deal, that it will only finance its share of the necessary improvements to the grid -- which involves doubling up the existing Spain-Morocco 400 kV line -- when new developments meet this critical figure.

As Spain's windsurfing capital, the small Tarifa area is renowned for its high steady winds, which blow at between 10-12 m/s at ten metres. With 108 MW of wind plant operating today, it has a backlog of applications from 113 developers amounting to 1831 MW, according to the industry department's Eduardo Torres. Given the fact that the area lies within the Alcornocales National Park, one of Europe's most important bird reserves, wind development sparked off vehement protests from environmentalist groups. In all of Andalusia, only two developments totalling 27 MW have been built since 1998.

Notably, Andalusia lacks a strong electrical infrastructure. Given that most wind resources outside Tarifa are in isolated areas with local electricity distribution running at near full capacity, many developers will be faced with high and possibly prohibitive connection costs.

Green protests

In regions without integrated plans, wind power has been the victim of its own success. As developers began searching out new sites at the end of the 1990s, they discovered wind resources in areas previously considered non-viable in the days of older technology. This was particularly the case in the two Castillas and Valencia, as Francisco Avalleneda of Castilla la Mancha's energy department points out.

In addition, REE's Luis Martín says wind development in many regions has been a case of "follow the leader." Before EHN moved into Castilla la Mancha at the beginning of 1999, development applications for this region were insignificant both in number and scope. But as soon as EHN clinched a special deal with the regional government to develop 455 MW in the province of Albacete, other developers moved in, swamping the regional industry department.

The ensuing tangle of paperwork has amounted to thousands of megawatts of applications proposed for each of the four regions. New development was frozen and regional environment departments refused to approve new projects until environmentally sensitive planning was established (Windpower Monthly, June 2000). Alejandor de Amo of Castille and León's regional environment department points out that "the Junta [regional government] was less concerned about environmental sensitivity regarding the first few wind plants as it did not initially envisage such massive development."

Even EHN's 455 MW plans on Castilla la Mancha's extensive, arid high plateau have come under attack from environmentalists. A rising tide of weekend protest marches to prospective developments in all four of the "new" regions have prompted the developers to carry out extensive public information campaigns emphasising the local and national benefits of wind development (Windpower Monthly, May 2000). All four plans now include wind development exclusion zones, taking into account the EU's Habitat Directive.

Catalonia's new plan is a special case given that the region was a pioneer in Spanish wind power. In the form of a map defining areas eligible for responsible wind development, the plan takes a laissez fair approach and does not make extensive industrial demands from developers. The regional government has begun to insist that development applications include detailed wind measurements, as Andalusia has done. This filtering mechanism is expected to help stave off applications from speculators and inexperienced companies with weak financial resources -- given the considerable costs of wind monitoring on this scale.

Dealing and wheeling

Regional governments might approve bold development plans, but wind's real future is caught in the fine screen of administrative delays. "The go-ahead for developing any single site ultimately lies with the local town halls and property owners," explains Joan Josep Escobar of ICAEN, Catalonia's energy agency. Town halls and developers have been caught in a nationwide trend of back door negotiations and buddy-buddy, "win win" deals (Windpower Monthly, March 2000).

The main fear is that the town halls in the poorer areas of Spain -- where most of the country's wind resources are to be found -- will hold out for the best back door offers, thus putting a damper on renewed growth. Escobar claims, however, that ICAEN offers advice to all local authorities in establishing sound approval criteria -- a service that will also be offered by Castilla la Mancha's new energy agency, AGECAM, and the already existing EREN energy agency in Castilla León.

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