New Year wind capacity bonanza for Cantabria

The autonomous government of Cantabria, a single province region in the north of Spain, announced in December that it will award 1.4 GW of installed wind capacity before the end of January. The new capacity will involve investments totaling around €2 billion, according to the regional government.

University of Cantabria: a partner in the €55m R&D initiative

Apart from the 18 MW Cañoneras plant, run by utility Iberdrola, the region has no other wind capacity. With the New Year allocation, Cantabria will leave Madrid as the only virgin regional market.

The call for proposals, made in April 2009, was oversubscribed with 51 proposals received, says the regional government. Local jobs, factories and component sourcing are key criteria for allotting project points.

Among developers, only Biocantaber, a joint venture between Iberdrola and its local civil engineering partner, Ocyener, has revealed its hand, namely a €555 million, 420 MW investment plan covering two zones and promising to create 1000 jobs. The plan includes a €55 million renewables research and development (R&D) initiative in conjunction with the University of Cantabria.

Other developers are keeping their cards close to their chests. Danish Turbine supplier Vestas says it has signed a collaboration agreement with the University of Cantabria to set up an R&D turbine centre — to become the company’s first in southern Europe — initially focussing on developing a new multi-megawatt machine. But the company insists the project is not tied with any commercial deal with developers in the region.

Developers have been active in Cantabria for over a decade. But the mountainous region is home to many rare animal species—including some of Western Europe’s last bears and wolves — and environmental sensitivities have long kept projects at the planning stage. However, in the 18 months leading up to the call for proposals, the regional government finalised studies to select seven environmentally viable zones, which represent just 2% of the small region’s surface area, that are appropriate for development.

Given developer secretiveness, how much of that 2% overlaps with existing projects remains to be seen. But whether a recent proposal or a more mature one, any project that receives immediate regional government authorisation will still require entry onto the new national preregister (see page?), with the next call scheduled now sometime after 2012.

The central government has just given the all-clear to 6 GW of new wind capacity nationwide through that year. As the list of projects within that allocation remains to be published, it is unknown whether any fall within Cantabria. For that to happen, those projects would need to have clinched regional government authorisation--a prerequisite for entering the national preregister--before 2006, when regional wind development processing was halted to draw up the new regulation.

They would also have to fall within the new 2% catchment area. Hence, there are slim chances for any of the 1.4 GW being built in Cantabria before the next central government allocation, scheduled for after 2012.

The long Cantabrian wait continues, but now with some very clear light at the end of the tunnel, says Luis Merino of renewables consultants and publishers Energías Renovables.