Resistance of ’empty Spain’ against major renewable energy projects

by Lorraine Williamson
renewable energy projects

Renewable energy projects in Spain have been facing resistance from various stakeholders including farmers, ranchers, hoteliers, and nature lovers. The opposition arises from the disagreement over the use of the territory.  

The construction of solar parks has increased significantly in the last two years in Spain. The ten largest parks cover an area of 5,913 hectares. That´s equivalent to 8,281 football fields filled with solar panels. The wind energy projects, on the other hand, have faced opposition due to the visual impact of the constructions. The employers in the sector agree that all projects must meet strict sustainability standards. Furthermore, they must promote measures that respect the environment and take into account the social sensitivity that exists in the rural environment.  

However, stakeholders such as the fishing industry have argued that offshore wind energy industrial sites are incompatible with fishing activities, endangering more than 4,600 vessels with different fishing gear and 12,000 fishermen in the Cantabrian area. 

Despite the opposition, Spain has planned investments of more than €60 billion, with the installation of 30 GW of renewable energy expected to create 192,000 jobs. Red Eléctrica de España (REE) has already received applications for more than 100 GW in permits for connections. However, government administrations, both regional and national, are the biggest bottleneck for promoters in obtaining an Environmental Impact Assessment (IAA).  

Balance needed 

Third Vice President and Minister for Ecological Transition, Teresa Ribera, defended the slow pace of procedures for wind and solar farm construction projects. In doing so, she met the rural anti-renewable movement. She emphasised the importance of finding a balance between developers and residents. They need to have a guarantee that the development is respectful and rigorous while seeking social consensus and compatibility of activities. The photovoltaic association UNEF has launched a Sustainability Excellence Certificate to face social resistance. It aims to push companies in the sector to raise their standards beyond legal requirements.  

Wind sector 

The wind sector is also defending itself, stating that onshore wind is mostly placed in lower-impact mountainous areas. Furthermore, the new signalling systems avoid previous problems with the avifauna. Offshore wind continues and it has a higher generating capacity factor with no territorial occupancy. The planned areas are 12-15 km from the coast. With floating technology, there are no vibrations during installation, and bottom trawling is prevented, creating sanctuaries for biodiversity. 

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Fishing industry 

The fishing industry, including trawling, argues that their work alone preserves the biodiversity of the seabed. Recently, the fishing industry of the Cantabrian Sea rebelled against a new proposal from the Ministry of Ecological Transition. The roadmap for the development of offshore wind and marine energy in Spain involves the implementation of two offshore wind energy industrial parks in the Cantabrian area. These are potentially endangering more than 4,600 vessels with different fishing gear and 12,000 fishermen.  

The federation is in favour of renewable energy sources as long as the projects do not affect the fishing activity and fishing grounds. The fishing industry of the Mediterranean Sea and the Gulf of Cádiz join the platform to defend their interests and want more dialogue with the government. Minister Teresa Ribera heard them and agreed to talk to fishermen’s associations. 

Land rental and expropriation 

Land rental for renewable energy projects has also become a thorny issue. Money is offered to some landowners but not to others to install solar panels or wind turbines, depending on the favourable location of the country. These differences evoke irritation and contradictory points of view. Not just from those who receive compensation but also from those who do not. People are also approached to stop growing crops to make way for sustainable energy projects. This happened to several dozen farmers in Caniles, a municipality in the Granada Geopark. The farmers receive a negligible amount, approximately €1,400 per hectare. 

Conflicting interests 

Unfortunately, there does not seem to be an end to the conflicts and disagreements surrounding renewable energy projects in Spain. While some argue that renewable energy is necessary to combat climate change and transition to a more sustainable energy system, others are pushing for more careful consideration of local concerns and impacts. It remains to be seen how these conflicting perspectives will be reconciled and what the future of renewable energy development in Spain will look like. 

Also read: Spain wants to increase its share of renewable energy projects

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