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Spain Backpedals on Renewable Energy

Tito Drago

MADRID, Mar 8 2011 (IPS) - Spain put the brakes on the use of clean energies to generate electricity, as the government approved an energy savings programme to cope with its large oil bill which affects its commitment to reduce non-renewable sources by 2020.

José Luis García, head of Greenpeace-Spain’s climate change and energy campaign, told IPS that after years of progress, Spain is retreating in its support for renewable energy sources.

In García’s view, the retreat is because renewable energies “are substitutes for other sources that are controlled by large companies, whose managers made their position clear to the government in public.

“It’s understandable that the companies should do this, but what is unacceptable is that the government should pay attention to them,” he complained.

In January 2010, the European Union approved an energy plan to fight climate change, at an average cost of three euros a week for every citizen of the 27-nation bloc, the president of the European Commission, José Manuel Durâo Barroso, said at the launch of the project.

Under this programme, Spain had planned a 40 percent reduction in non-renewable fuels by 2020, and their replacement by clean energy sources.


But the government may lower its goal by as much as five percentage points, Industry Minister Miguel Sebastián announced, as part of an effort to save on energy costs. Subsidies for solar energy, for instance, could be cut by up to 45 percent.

According to García, “pressure from electricity companies like Iberdrola, Endesa and Gas Natural has influenced” the savings measures announced by the government, some of which came into effect Monday Mar. 7.

He said “this might be seen as appropriate action now, but it bodes ill for the future.”

Spain has been hit hard by soaring oil prices and price swings resulting from the crisis in Libya, as it imports 75 percent of the energy it consumes.

Since 2007, parliament has turned down three proposals by the United Left coalition (IU) to reduce dependence on imported fossil fuels and promote consumption of clean energy instead.

In formulating its proposals, the IU had the support of Comisiones Obreras (CCOO), a trade union federation, the environmental group Ecologists in Action, Greenpeace and the Spanish office of the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF).

The energy savings package approved Friday Mar. 4 by the government of socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero aims to save three billion dollars a year by taking temporary and permanent measures that will make cuts in energy imports equivalent to 28.6 million barrels of oil.

The package includes lowering the maximum speed limit on highways and motorways from 120 to 110 kilometres per hour, from Monday Feb. 7 until at least Jun. 30. Tyre replacement, which also saves fuel, will be subsidised.

The plan aims to reduce annual oil imports by five percent, to launch a citizen awareness and information campaign to promote energy savings, and to introduce subsidies for low-consumption light bulbs. This type of light bulb will also be used for street lighting throughout the country.

Red Eléctrica, the company that manages the electricity grid in Spain, announced that in January and February, 38 percent of the country’s energy came from non-polluting sources, such as solar, hydroelectric and wind energy.

This figure is two points lower than for the same two months in 2010, and is lower than the share represented by fossil fuels, which generated 42 percent of total electricity consumed.

First Vice President of the government and Interior Minister Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba said although the package of measures “may be unpopular,” they are absolutely necessary because “with the highest priced litre of gasoline in history, we must make savings, because our economic recovery is at stake.”

Rubalcaba, of the governing Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party (PSOE), said “Spain is a country that has thought for a long time that energy is free, and it isn’t, it’s very expensive.”

Lawmaker Gustavo de Arístegui of the rightwing Popular Party, the main opposition force, criticised the efficiency measures, especially the unpopular new speed limit.

He proposed instead “a speed limit appropriate to the cars and highways of the 21st century, of 140, 150 or even 160 kilometres per hour on certain stretches,” and said these limits should be “strictly enforced.”

The government is also studying the idea of promoting manufacture and use of electric vehicles, which would allow maximum advantage to be taken of the country’s large wind power capacity. At present the wind turbines have to be shut off for periods of time because they produce more energy than is consumed, and the surplus cannot be stored.

Renewable energies are in fact being boosted by the situation across the Mediterranean Sea. The head of Fundación Renovables (Renewables Foundation), Javier García Breva, said the popular uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East will have serious and unpredictable consequences for imports of oil and derivatives.

Based on reports from the International Energy Agency and the European Central Bank, Breva said economic recovery in the EU will be threatened if oil prices climb any higher than their current level of 117 dollars a barrel, or if the situation in Libya causes a lengthy oil supply crisis.

 
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