Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Wind Energy in Spain

Galicia heads Spain's wind rush
UPI - Monday, February 28, 2005

Date: Monday, February 28, 2005 9:38:13 AM EST By ELIZABETH BRYANT
FALADOIRA, Spain, Feb. 26 (UPI) -- The wind turbines loom over this rugged chunk of Galicia, stretching atop bare hills as far as the eye can see.
On any given year, the Faladoira wind farm generates enough electricity to power some 60,000 homes. But the slim, long-limbed machines represent only a fraction of the region's energy ambitions.
Over the last decade, wind energy has developed into a thriving business in Galicia, generating not only electricity, but also jobs and income in this rural northwestern region of fishermen and farmers that once was considered one of the poorest in Spain.
Today Galicia, where an estimated 20 percent of the region's electricity will be powered by wind this year, is at the forefront of the wind energy rush in Europe -- which accounts for 80 percent of the global wind market.
Overall, 6 percent of Spain's power is derived from wind farms. That makes Spain only second to Germany as the world's largest producer of wind power.
Now, with the European Union pushed to curb its greenhouse gas emissions under the newly ratified Kyoto Protocol, renewable energy advocates paint a shining future for the industry.
"We're at the threshold of becoming a mainstream energy source," said Corin Millais, head of the European Wind Energy Association in Brussels. "For years it's been seen as an alternative, green niche product. Now, we're sting signs that the technology and the policy are being combined to create a very visible, multibillion-euro business."
Along with the enthusiasm, however, opposition to wind power is growing.
Some environmentalists charge the huge turbines kills thousands of migratory birds. Fishermen in southern Spain fret that plans for offshore wind farms will disrupt fish stocks and their fishing routes. Skeptical scientists suggest wind's capacity to generate significant, steady power is overrated.
And citizens groups from Scotland to Germany denounce wind farms as an eyesore.
Even in Galicia, where there appears to be little public rancor against wind turbines to date, some officials worry that future wind energy generation may be curbed by how many turbines local residents may be willing to tolerate, rather than by production constraints.
Still, a mix of mother nature - namely, plenty of wind -- government support and private-sector investment has cultivated a success story in this region that is now being modeled elsewhere in Spain, officials say.
Currently Galicia generates roughly 1,800 megawatts of wind power, which is both used locally and exported to other parts of Spain and abroad.
But industry and government officials spin plans of more than doubling that amount to 4,000 megawatts of power by 2010 -- and suggest the figure could zoom up to 9,000 megawatts in the future.
"In Galicia, everyone is for the windmills," said Ramon Ordas Badia, councilor of industrial and commercial innovation at the Government of Galicia, which has subsidized and prodded the region's wind energy development. "They see wind energy as a clean energy that produces employment and business in Galicia."
Already, Ordas estimates the wind industry has generated some 2,000 new jobs in the region, and transformed another 2,000 into wind-sector specific employment that includes manufacturing the turbine parts.
Those figures don't included uncounted secondary jobs, such as transporting the machines to various wind farms.
The economic injection is good news for a region dogged by high unemployment and the fallout of the Prestige oil tanker spill two years ago, which put many local fishermen temporarily out of work.
More than a dozen, mostly local residents work at the Faladoira farm, for example. Area landowners are also profiting from renting out their desolate, hilly property where a brisk wind spins the turbines' white blades.
"Many of these people might have had to commute to places La Coruna or Ferrol," said Jose Crusat, a maintenance worker at the plant, naming cities elsewhere in Galicia. "Now they can live close to home and work."
The wind farm is owned by ECYR, the renewable energy offshoot of the Spanish power company Endesa. Just a few miles away lies another piece of Endesa's energy equation -- a 10-mile square coal mine which cuts an ugly moonscape into the Galician countryside.
"It's impossible to grow with renewable (energy) alone," said Manuel Gago Rodriguez, regional director for ECYR and head of Galicia's wind energy association. "But it is possible to keep growing the percentage generated from renewable energy."
Several other Spanish provinces are now following Galicia's example. Wind energy is flourishing in Navarra, Aragon and Castilla la Mancha. There are also plans to build turbines off the coastline in southern Spain.
Even one diehard conventional power user -- industrialized Catalonia -- unrolled an ambitious goal earlier this month to reach 1,500 megawatts of wind power by next year.
"The regions that were lagging behind realize they have missed something very important for the future," said Manuel Bustos, international policy director of the Spanish renewable energy association, APPA. "Some regions that haven't installed a single megawatt are now ready for development."
Spain is hardly the only European country where wind energy is booming. Germany is the world's wind energy leader in total production. But Denmark, where 20 percent of the nation's power comes from the wind, ranks No. 1 in per capita terms.
Other countries are coming aboard. In France, where wind accounts for only 1 percent of domestic electricity consumption, plans are afoot to install more than 4,000 turbines in the next five years.
As a result, Europe has outstripped the United States, which in the 1980s was the world's wind energy leader.
Unlike the United States, where critics complain of insufficient public funding for renewable energy, governments in Galicia and elsewhere have been underwriting the development of wind and other non-conventional power sources.
The EU's push to develop wind and other renewables is partly fueled by the dearth of conventional domestic energy sources in such countries as France and Spain.
The bloc has also set a target that 6 percent of European energy be derived from wind by 2010 -- partly as a way to meet required cuts in greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol.
But there is another reason for the industry's success, advocates say: Wind energy is profitable.
Today wind amounts to a $10 billion industry in Europe, according to the European wind association -- a figure the group predicts could grow tenfold by 2020.
"In the move toward cleaner energy fuels," the association's Millais said, "wind energy is one of the major winners."
Copyright 2005 by United Press International.
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