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ENVIRONMENT-SPAIN: Number Two in Wind Energy

Tito Drago

MADRID, Aug 4 2008 (IPS) - Spain is the world’s second producer of wind energy, after Germany and ahead of the United States, and plans to continue expanding its infrastructure so as to double its current output by 2012. But new regulations may slow this development.

On very windy days, wind energy production can supply 40 percent of Spain’s demand, although the yearly average is 10 percent. The largest share of electricity is supplied by nuclear plants which provide 20.7 percent of the total.

Wind energy generates 17,743 megawatts a year in Germany, followed by Spain with 9,653 megawatts a year and the United States with 8,500. Among developing countries, India is in first place with 4,300 megawatts a year, followed by China with 765, Egypt with 143 and Morocco with 64 megawatts a year.

But in May the administration of socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero introduced measures reducing government tariff support for energy production from renewable sources, provoking vigorous protests from civil society organisations.

Spain’s two largest unions, the Workers’ Commissions (CCOO) and the General Union of Workers (UGT), the environmental groups Ecologists in Action and Greenpeace, the Renewable Energies Producers Association (APPA) and the Spanish Wind Energy Association (AEE) warned that these cuts endanger the future of wind energy in Spain.

In a joint communiqué, these organisations said that “wind energy has become an industrial and commercial sector that is in the global vanguard. It is one of Spain’s few examples of technological and business leadership, creates employment, produces high added value and boasts one of the highest indices of investment in research, development and innovation.”

They also emphasised that wind energy is currently the pillar of efforts to meet national goals for renewable energy and Spain’s commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, the United Nations agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Wind energy also reduces dependence on imported energy, which in this country is the highest in the European Union, they added in defence of wind-powered electricity generation.

By contrast, government sources told IPS on Aug. 1 that the robust development of this sector, “which is continuing to grow,” shows that the criticisms are mistaken.

They said it was one thing to modify feed-in tariffs to align them with real conditions, but quite another to stop supporting renewable energy sources, which in fact they are continuing to back strongly.

Wind energy is also known as eolic energy, after Aeolus, the keeper of the winds in Greek mythology. Air in motion has been used for thousands of years to move sailing ships or turn windmills used for pumping water from underground or grinding grain.

Now wind energy has reached a new level of technological development, at a higher cost, which allows it to generate electricity and protect the environment by replacing fossil-fuel derived electric power.

The earth’s surface is unevenly heated by the sun, creating air currents. Winds are therefore variable, and so is wind energy production.

In Spain, the Environment Ministry and Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism are working to develop wind energy at sea, installing offshore wind turbines in its territorial waters around the Iberian peninsula and the Canary Islands, off the northwest coast of Africa.

These wind turbines are mounted on a steel tower 100 metres in height, weighing about 250 tonnes. The rotor blades, hub and generator components, including a gear transmission box where the turning speed is increased, add another 100 tonnes. Nearly all the equipment is made of steel.

Wind energy not only helps Spain to reduce its dependence on imported oil, but also creates jobs and business opportunities here and in other countries.

If government plans to expand wind parks are met, 360 million tonnes of steel will be needed for building the wind turbines. This would create a huge market for steel manufacturers, foundries, electricity and electronics companies and others.

According to Environment Ministry sources, renewable energies have created 180,000 jobs in Spain, 96,000 of which are in the wind energy sector.

Wind turbines are also sold abroad. For example, the Gamesa company builds wind parks and has among its clients six of the top seven wind park operators in the world.

Another Spanish company, Iberdrola, is building four wind parks in France, where it has already constructed 15 others. With 7,949 megawatts of installed and operating capacity, it is consolidating its position as the world’s foremost wind energy company. Its largest wind park is the Klondike III facility near Wasco, Oregon in the United States.

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