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Q&A: “It’s Essential to Change the Energy Model”

Clarinha Glock interviews SERGIO DE OTTO, a founder of Spain's Fundación Renovables* - Tierramérica

MADRID, Jan 26 2011 (IPS) - Latin America could see more Spanish investment in renewable energy if this otherwise strong sector in Spain is hurt in the war being waged by fossil fuel interests, according to expert Sergio de Otto.

Sergio de Otto Credit: Courtesy of Sergio de Otto

Sergio de Otto Credit: Courtesy of Sergio de Otto

One of the founders of Fundación Renovables (Renewables Foundation), De Otto points out that Spain should be more advanced in reaching the goals set out by the European Union to cut greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent by 2020 through switching to renewable energy sources like wind, solar and biofuels.

De Otto, also a member of Spain’s Wind Energy Association, explained to Tierramérica that the Foundation was created to raise awareness in his country and to press for change in the energy model, to challenge the iron grip on privileges held by the fossil fuel sector.

Q: Is there a risk that Spain won’t meet its emissions goals, and that it could cause problems for the EU objectives? A: No, Spain is going to meet those goals. What’s more, with the measures currently in place, we will surely achieve the proposed rates because we are already close.

But what we are seeing is that the results, which could have been more ambitious, have been undermined by other interests. Spain has the conditions for its energy matrix to achieve 30 percent production from renewable sources in 2020, and not just 20 percent as is set in the European bloc’s agreements.

Q: What is Spain’s participation in renewable energy production? A: We could be more ambitious because the EU objectives are not simply a goal, but rather an intermediate step. We still have to make a great effort, but we have an advantage.

In 2010, renewable sources were responsible for 37 percent of Spain’s electricity production. But in general energy terms, the renewables are about eight or nine percent.

Between 2004 and 2008, when the global economic-financial crisis erupted, the renewable energy sector saw fast growth in this country. In 2008 there was about 3,000 megawatts of installed capacity for photovoltaic energy, as well as 16,000 megawatts for wind energy and 3,000 megawatts for thermosolar energy.

The sector continued growing, and by the end of last year was projected to reach 20,000 megawatts from wind energy and 4,000 from photovoltaic. As a result, Spain has stood out among its European partners and began exporting technology to the United States, France, Italy and even China.

Q: So why hasn’t there been greater growth in this sector? Is it a consequence of the economic crisis? A: The global crisis accentuated the problem, but it isn’t the main factor. Spain is the scene of the first serious confrontation between the interests of conventional energy (fossil fuel) production technologies and those seeking to develop renewables. We are the most advanced in the latter, but the decline in electricity consumption accelerated the dispute that was expected to come some years in the future.

At this time, the companies that continue to invest in conventional technologies are seeing that renewable energy has part of the electrical generation market and that is why they are pressuring the government to halt that development.

Q: What other factors are interfering in this process? A: There are other problems internally, like the delay in updating the government-regulated utility rates. In order to make up for the deficit between electricity production costs and the income received by the companies — a deficit that grew in the last 10 years — this month a nearly 10-percent increase was decreed.

The Fundación Renovables is working to clear this up for the population, unmasking those who insist on blaming renewable energy for that increase in their electrical bills.

Q: What is the Foundation doing to ensure it has a role in renewable energy changes? A: We haven’t existed for long. The Foundation was created in the middle of last year and concluded its constitution in December. It is made up of a board with 12 founders and more than 150 members, and what we do is make public demands for change.

We are a citizen movement of professionals who work in various institutions and companies in the energy sector. Our goal is not to make a new law, but to raise society’s awareness about energy issues.

We believe it is essential to change the energy model and necessary for this process to occur as quickly as possible in order to dispense with fossil fuels as soon as possible and to develop renewable energies to the maximum possible. All of this should be accompanied by policies to promote development of this sector.

Q: If the situation doesn’t change, what will be the next move by the Spanish companies working in renewable energy? A: The current difficulties could lead many companies to take their experience and knowledge to other markets. Among the countries with great possibilities are Chile and Argentina. Also Mexico, where many Spanish companies already have investments, and little by little interest is growing in the other Latin American countries.

(*This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network. Tierramérica is a specialised news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environment Programme and the World Bank.)

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