Why the renewable energy boom in Spain is so controversial

Why the renewable energy boom in Spain is so controversial

Recognized Spanish film Alcarràs tells the story of how a solar park uproots a struggling peach farm in Catalonia: a century-old orchard ruthlessly trampled by progress; divided family.

Winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival and domestic blockbusterthe film clearly hit the Spaniards.

This is probably because it comes when they are witnessing a frantic race to build renewable power plants across the country and use a unique Spanish combination of sun and wind.

The starting pistol was fired during the current socialist government in 2018 it lifted the moratorium on renewables and swept away the infamous solar tax introduced by their conservative predecessors.

If you count Large areas of Spain with depopulated countryside and for investors in the sector, such as BP Lightsource, which has made the country the largest solar market in Europe and a third globally, this is clear.

Spain wants to produce 74% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030 and is already the European leader in wind energy. It had 1,265 wind farms and wind energy capacity 28.1 gigawatts in 2021second after Germany in Europe.

“Saudi Arabia Europe”

Such excitement, that it was even designed that one of the most vacant regions of Spain – Aragón, which lies between Barcelona and Madrid – could become Saudi Arabia in Europe, a reference to the kingdom’s position as one of the world’s largest energy producers. By 2030, 10% of Teruel – province of Aragon – could be covered by renewable energy installations.

But like any progress, the renewable energy boom has its opponents.

Javier Oquendo, a spokesman for the Teruel Landscape Defense Platform, says the group is not against renewables as such, but rather against the scope of what is being proposed. The Teruel platform and more than 200 others alike have teamed up under the umbrella association ALIENTE (Energy and Territories Alliance) with the slogan: “Renewables yes, but not like this”.

Their the first demonstration took place at the end of last year in Madrid and attracted up to 15,000 protesters from all over Spain. They demanded a different, scaled-down model, one that would exclude large energy companies with projects to export much of the manufactured.

“Companies say they bring work to the area,” Oquendo said. “But these machines are automated and the work is specialized. At a wind farm nearby, we think one person is employed, but we don’t know who he is or where he lives. ”

The Teruel platform says it is against “rural industrialization”.

For those in the tourism sector, such as Diego Pilaquinga, which runs the Mas de Cebrian in the Sierra Gudar-Javalambre, about 90 kilometers north of Valencia, the visual impact is particularly appalling.

The hotel is well on its way to receiving intervention from the Forestalia Maestrazgo solar project, which, if it continues, will cover 137 hectares of solar panels right on its doorstep, not to mention the 22 wind farms in the area.

“They plan to fill the field in front of the hotel with them,” Pilaquinga said. “People come here to see nature, not to look at the field of black panels. It will destroy the local landscape, habitat for fauna and can cause fires.

“If it goes on, we’ll take it to the Supreme Court. If it doesn’t work, we won’t survive.”

Some of these hectares belong to the network of protected nesting sites of rare and endangered Natura 2000 species. Although there is legislation against the installation of infrastructure in nature parks and specially protected areas (SPAs) for the Natura 2000 network, the government line is only indicative and may be rewritten.

“These are very beautiful areas, but the problem is that the law does not really guarantee their protection,” said Daniel López of Ecologists in Action.

“And most renewable companies are here to make money.”

However, López admits that solar farms can be compatible with a number of environmental and agricultural initiatives, including cattle grazing. As an example, he cites the Endesa solar installation in Solana de los Barros – in southwestern Spain near the border with Portugal – where sheep roam under panels and a nesting project is underway.

“Many large projects ensure that this will have a positive impact on the local population,” he said Pepa Mosque, co-founder of Energias Renovables magazine. “Platforms are positive in that the pressure they exert increases the likelihood that this will happen.”

In some areas, however, the social contract between companies and local people is proving to be a bigger problem.

Forestalia, which has diversified its operations from the meat industry to become one of the largest players in the Aragón region, is accused of speculation and the government has given it a blank check.

“If you say you don’t want their project, their answer is that public opinion doesn’t matter. It’s legal, “Oquendo said.

He quotes a viral video in which José Antonio Pérez – Forestalia’s President Fernando Samper’s adviser – tells a protester in Zaragoza in March: “If the village of Matarraña opposes us, Europe will tell you where to stand” – or rather stronger words to that effect.

In his defense, Perez said he took care of his belongings when the protester drove him into a corner. “That’s their style,” he said. “She bases her story on this kind of unofficial event.”

“A block check would be impossible.” There are auctions. We have been revolutionary in this sector and people do not like that. We were the first company in Spain to give up subsidies. We have democratized the industry in Spain. People on these platforms play a victim. They are afraid of change. They think they are progressive, but in reality they are conservatives. In any case, you can’t save your village unless you save the world first. “

Rural communities divided

It is not just big energy companies and demonstrators where relations are strained.

The land can be expropriated if at least 80% is for the installation of the project, which, according to Oquendo, put the entire community in Teruel in dispute and vandalism problems arose in April.

“There are people who are for and people who are against,” he said. “The meetings are excited and there are neighbors who have stopped talking.” There can be so many different problems. Imagine that one family is paid to rent their land for installation, but their neighbor gets nothing, even though they have to come to terms with the same visual impact. ”

Most ALIENTE platforms would rather see 1000 small projects instead of 10 large ones, with priority for own or local consumption.

“In the coal age, it was not possible to put energy in the hands of the individual, but now it is,” Oquendo said.

However, José Donoso, head of the Spanish solar association UNEF, rejects the idea as “suicide”. He points out that the ecological transition is not just about “decorating the countryside. We cannot limit the response to climate change to the capacity of small companies. “

This means that UNEF is actually fighting to set aside 10% of the market for players with projects below 10 kilowatts.

“We pushed the government to auction 300 megawatts specifically for small companies.

“When the auction took place, there was only 5 megawatts under pressure. We need an investment of 25 billion euros to reach the National Integrated Energy and Climate Plan (PNIEC) target by 2030. Small companies simply don’t have that kind of money.”

Donoso added that to believe that we can only respond to climate change with small companies means to be a neonegationist.

“These people may not deny climate change, but they are more dangerous to them because they oppose any policy that addresses it,” he said.

“They are the biggest obstacle to ecological transformation in the country right now.”

As for the film Alcarràs, Donoso points out that the Catalan village of Alcarràs has a solar farm, but it was installed on land that was previously used as a waste storage site for an industrial pig farm, not an orchard, and made the landowner very happy. In addition, pulling the orchard to make room for a solar farm would be against the law in the region.

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