Operator poised to grant grid access -- Boom prospects in Catalonia

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The final stamp of approval hangs tantalisingly over 1000 MW of planned wind development in Spain's north-eastern region of Catalonia. Over the summer the Catalonian government, the Generalitat, clinched a verbal agreement from Spain's national grid operator, Red Eléctrica de España (REE), to open five connection points to 17 wind projects totalling around 1000 MW.

Nearly all the projects are advanced and -- if finalised -- regional wind power will boom just as fast as interconnection lines can go up. REE, however, has previously held up wind connections in Catalonia and it will in all likelihood require more political pressure from the Generalitat before the region's battle-weary developers can cry victory.

Although aides to the Generalitat's energy agency, Institùt Català d'Energia (ICAEN), are willing to provide off-the-record confirmation on the verbal agreement, there was still nothing in writing in mid September. What is clear though, is the Generalitat's determination to get wind off the ground. It has already forced the hand of medium tension distributor Endesa to connect two advanced projects totalling 77 MW in the Tortosa district of Tarragona (Windpower Monthly, May 2002). This coup de force came on the heels of the rubberstamping of the Generalitat's wind development siting plan, following two years of political manoeuvring and polemical public inquiry.


The Generalitat has kept up the pressure. Late last year, REE reneged on an agreement to provide connection for around 400 MW from numerous developers in Tarragona province who formed the association Aerta to jointly finance an interconnection line. REE defended its back-pedalling, arguing it had miscalculated connection capacity. In the same breath REE also declared that not a single new plant could come online in Catalonia until 2007 "for reasons of system security."

The Generalitat retaliated with a round of visits to Spain's energy secretary, Jose Folgado, in Madrid to bring pressure to bear on REE. The central government holds the biggest single share in REE at 28.5%.

Catalonian developers are now quietly impressed with the Generalitat's efforts. But the proof of real effective pressure, beyond reports of good intentions, depends on REE's final approval. Meanwhile, the two Tortosa projects are still trying to seal municipal permits and "the only thing that is crystal clear is that 2003 will be the first year that Catalonia gets no wind power up at all," says Óscar Romero of Spain's renewables producers association, Asociación de Productores de Energías Renovables. He says it is an "appalling statistic" given that Catalonia was once a wind pioneer. It now lags in ninth place among Spanish regions with just 87.6 MW online.

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