Favorable winds boost Spain’s wind power sector

Buoyed by a surge in investment and new projects, wind power has become Spain’s main source of electricity generation as Europe seeks to curb energy imports from Russia.

“We’re on suitable ground here,” said Joaquin Garcia Latorre, project manager at Enel Green Power Espana, pointing to gigantic pylons erected on the heights of the tiny village of Villar de los Navarros to the northeast.

At this wind-exposed location, the Spanish-Italian company built one of the largest wind farms in the country with 180 megawatts.

The 43 wind turbines, named Tico Wind, began generating electricity in November, Latorre said, while workers around him tended to the turbines, which are over 100 meters (328 feet) tall.

Wind power became the main source of electricity generation in Spain last year with a 23 percent share, ahead of nuclear (21 percent) and gas (17 percent). Photo: AFP / CESAR MANSO

“There are between 2,500 and 3,000 wind hours per year here,” he added.

The wind farm will be able to produce 471 gigawatt hours per year – enough to meet the needs of 148,000 homes – after being fully operational in a month.

This type of projects has been popping up all over Spain in recent years, making the country the second largest wind power producer in Europe after Germany in terms of installed capacity and the fifth largest in the world.

Wind power became the main source of electricity generation in Spain last year, with a 23 percent share, ahead of nuclear (21 percent) and gas (17 percent), according to national grid operator REE.

The sector is “benefiting from a favorable situation,” although “brakes” on its development remain, such as a reliance on government auctions, said Francisco Valverde Sanchez, renewable energy specialist at electricity consultant Menta Energia.

A wind farm in Spain's Villar de los Navarros will produce 471 gigawatt hours per year - enough to meet the needs of 148,000 homes - after being fully operational in a month A wind farm in Spain’s Villar de los Navarros will produce 471 gigawatt hours per year – enough to meet the needs of 148,000 homes – after being fully operational in a month Photo: AFP / CESAR MANSO

After booming in the 2000s thanks to generous public funding, the sector came to a sudden standstill when subsidies were cut in 2013 during Spain’s economic crisis.

It has since stormed ahead. Spain, which has a total of 1,265 wind farms, had an installed wind power capacity of 28.1 gigawatts in 2021, up from 23.4 gigawatts in 2018, according to industry group AEE.

With large tracts of sparsely populated land, favorable regulatory frameworks and state-of-the-art wind turbine manufacturers, Spain is one of the “most interesting” markets for wind power investors, said AEE Director General Juan Virgilio Marquez.

As part of its plan to respond to the economic fallout from Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Spain has pledged to speed up approvals for wind power projects below 75 megawatts As part of its plan to respond to the economic fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Spain has pledged to speed up approvals for wind power projects below 75 megawatts Photo: AFP / CESAR MANSO

Spain is home to several industry heavyweights such as Iberdrola and Naturgay, making it a top exporter of wind turbines. “That explains the dynamics of the sector,” said Marquez.

Investor interest has even come from outside the energy sector.

In November, Spaniard Amancio Ortega, founder of fast fashion giant Zara and one of the richest men in the world, invested 245 million euros ($268 million) in a wind farm in the north-eastern region of Aragon.

Spain committed in 2020 to generating 74 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, up from 47 percent.

To achieve this goal, Spain is betting on the development of offshore wind energy, a sector that is still in its infancy.

But since Spain has thousands of kilometers of coastline, offshore wind has plenty of room to grow.

“This is an ambitious goal,” said Valverde Sanchez, arguing that government bureaucracy on wind farm projects would need to be cut to achieve it.

According to AEE, nearly 600 wind power projects are currently under investigation by the government.

As part of its plan to respond to the economic fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Spain has pledged to speed up approvals for wind power projects below 75 megawatts.

“Our country has enough natural resources to become Europe’s leading producer and exporter of renewable energy,” Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Wednesday, adding that this could be key to helping the European Union achieve its goal of ” achieve energy independence”.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Brussels has declared a mission to cut the EU’s Russian gas imports by two-thirds this year and to end the use of Russian gas by 2027.

Spain “could become the energy ‘breadbasket’ of Europe,” said Virgilio Marquez.

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