CLOUDS IN THE SPANISH ENERGY TRANSITION
Recently, Malaga local authorities have received an avalanche of solar farms projects. Though it could have an ecological sense in terms of saving Co2, it’s a threat to wildlife and the lifestyle in the region. As a result, residents see some clouds in the Spanish energy transition.
Southern Spain has exceptional weather and it makes sense to take advantage of it to boost the decarbonisation of the grid. Given the urgency of the climate crisis and the number of grants from the EU, local councils have received an avalanche of solar projects. It would generate even more clean energy than needed. Though the evil is in the details and residents see some clouds in the Spanish energy transition.
Enrique Armijo, councillor at Almogia Council, lead a campaign to put those plans on hold and rethink the legal frame: “We ask for an extension to approve those projects. We want a legal frame that doesn’t endanger the wildlife and the lifestyle of hundreds of farmers in the area.”
Armijo gives the example of its village, where promoters split a huge single farm into several projects under 50Mw. With this trick, the project is the regional authority’s competence and avoids a deeper scrutiny by the Government.
“These parks are going to share infrastructures and the evacuation lines for the energy until the substation. Therefore, it is all the same project.”
He points the environmental impact. It will occupy land where are protected animals and plants; “in Amogia, it is planned a solar farm with 17km (10 miles) fenced, without a single green corridor.
“It will affect rare and protected species. Although those projects have attached corrective measures to minimise its impact, it’s just not enough.”
Most of the projects plan to build in the countryside on land used for agriculture; thus, Armijo claims to bring these projects to the big consumer. “It would make sense to have a norm to set photovoltaic installations firstly in residential building’s roof in cities and industrial estates.
“Once we have covered all roofs, the energy demand will shrink. Then we can tidy up the countryside logically. But if we put the cart before the horse, we’ll kill the rural world as we know.”
Nonetheless, putting a PV panel on each roof is a challenging task. Last year, Gustavo Triviño began Terral Solar, a small enterprise to install solar panels on single-family houses, “I always thought there is a lot of space wasted within the city where we could put panels.”
Unfortunately, the business wasn’t successful. The pandemic played its part, though. “It’s a good time for the renewables, but people don’t know them yet. It’s hard to convince people to spend their savings on something that they don’t understand very well. They don’t think they can actually save money in the energy bill.” The price, usually, is set off in 5 to 7 years approximately, and the brands guarantee up to 20 years of good performance.
He agrees that big solar farms may impact the wildlife and the lifestyle, everything you build in the countryside will. However, it’s clear we need energy; therefore, the key is to balance wins and losses.
One of the best advantages of solar energy is that you can set it on your roof and reduce the losses in transport. To achieve being self-sufficient would be ´ideal´.
“Solar energy is quite straightforward and uses simple technology. I am sure we have the capacity to meet the demand we need,” Triviño concludes.
The impact of the energy transition in the Spanish agriculture
Just in Andalucia, there are over 650 projects. There are many more in other areas with similar weather conditions, with grassroots movements trying to slow it down. The intention is to make the energy production area for exporting to Europe afterward. A key sector in Andalusia is agriculture, and most of these schemes are target rural areas.
Malaga has unique local fresh products such as Aloreña Olive or Tomato Bull Egg. Fresh food in many countries of northern Europe come from this Spanish region, but the production would be in risk due to the land that mega solar farms would need. However, the postures among farmers are confronted, as the landowners need to make money out of their land, and trading is not very profitable. Then, a long-term rent is something that many farmers may find more attractive than agriculture. Moreover, they face foreign competence with lower prices and a shrinking help from the Common Agrarian Policy.
COAG, a farmer union with over 250,000 affiliated, supports the installation of small photovoltaic panels, though it has to put forward people’s interests. Since 2010 they support small solar farms. It’d help farmers who need cheap energy and bring extra income through the rent. However, they warn that they request the Government for an adequate regulation, which orders the implementation of photovoltaic plants.
In a statement, Jose-Luis De Diego, Technical coordinator, says: “Small solar farms, under 5Mw, don’t need high tensions nor long transport. Thus, the energy is consumed in closer localisation. Therefore, we request to the administration to reserve 20% of the generated power for a small installation.”
“We are worried, though, because we see how a huge number of agricultural emplacements become solar farms. This means a loss in farming land and the economic activity attached to it”.
They also condemn the environmental consequences and highlight the visual impact of this project under the current law. Furthermore, De Diego thinks that ecological risk assessments are not strict enough to minimise the damage.
Politics behind the Spanish transition
Teresa Ribera, Spanish minister for the ecological transition (MITECO), ensures that they are working to guarantee the compatibility between reducing GHG and protecting the environment. In response to the complaints about the vast number of projects, Ribera said that the shift in the energetic model wouldn’t be a success just with small and self-supply farms. She states that some industrial-size farms will be necessary. Nonetheless, she secures the Government will be highly imperative in terms of environmental risks.
It’s worth noting that the Government doesn’t scrutiny installations under 50Mw, like the one in Malaga.
“Ask for extensions until we have a new legal framework will mean to give up a whole decade.”
Endesa is one of the biggest energy companies with a number of renewables projects throughout Spain. A spokesperson clarifies that all its projects are according to the law and with environmental risk assessments.
“Moreover, we add the plus of shared value projects (SVP). We look to maximise the value to the local community and reduce the impact.
“One of the key elements is formation. So we have done free courses to improve employability in rising sectors.”
Spain is well known for its sunny weather. There, the Sun shines around 80% of the year. Besides tourism, it’s a paradise for developing solar energy, and it’s unbelievable that this sector hasn’t grown earlier in the context of the climate crisis. However, there are no simple answers the climate war, and every solution may have shadows. The outcome must be positive without leaving no one behind.