Spain’s Wind Industry: An Uneasy Flight

MADRID — Wind power was Spain's main source of electricity for the year 2013, a historical development that has generated optimism among the country's ...

Apr 26, 2014

MADRID — Wind power was Spain's main source of electricity for the year 2013, a historical development that has generated optimism among the country's green energy proponents and one particularly punny headline in its leading newspaper.
“Spain is the first county in the world where wind energy satisfies most of the demand for energy,” said a statement released from the Associacion Empresarial Eolica (AEE), the Spanish wind energy association.
As Spain is known more for sol and sombra, the sight of pearly white turbines — some of which can reach over 150 meters — sprouting across its landscape may be surprising. But in Spanish autonomous regions like Aragón and Zaragoza, wind farms have helped to meet 21.1 percent of the country's power demand, with the added benefit of creating jobs for a recovering economy.
Energy is a hot topic in Spain, where high electricity bills are a strain on bank accounts and a common cause for complaint. Since it is subsidized by the government, renewable energy does not mean higher prices for consumers. As such, people have reacted favorably to the new technology, $1.9 billion-worth of which is exported globally per year.
"[The Spaniards] are constantly talking about wind power because electricity is very expensive, and pollution is a big problem. All Spaniards are very aware, that we need a change ... And wind power is also very important for the economy," said Armando Figueroa-Rojas, a professor of politics and culture at NYU Madrid.
However, the industry's recent success is tinged with concern. The government's previously generous subsidy policies have caused a tariff deficit in the sector, a gap estimated to be between 25 and 30 billion euros. Despite its importance in 2013, the burgeoning industry of wind energy have seen subsidy cuts and a consequent decline in investor interest. Paradoxically, the industry's success is being used as the rationale for withdrawal of government support.
 In a statement to the BBC, Sonia Franco of the AEE estimated that further cuts could mean a "subsidy reduction of about 1.2bn euros [by] … 2014."
Despite record production in January, installation levels have been in sharp decline. In 2012, Spain had 1,110 megawatts of wind capacity installed. The figure now hovers around 175 MW. The industry has also been burdened by a seven percent government tax on all electricity generation revenues, whether resources are renewable or not.
As the country's economy trudges through a long recovery in 2014, Spain is now attempting to solidify itself as a big player and global producer of green energy. Those from the industry find themselves teetering between hope and frustration.
"[Wind power] could be a unique product for Spain," said Figueroa-Rojas. "It would be something new. A new market."
Zoe Hu is an editor at large. Email her at
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