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    The battle over the renewable energy development model is tense at the local level.


    December 9, 2022 - CE Noticias Financieras

     

      There is little doubt of the need to expand renewable energy in Spain, either to reduce global warming emissions or to lower energy bills. However, how to do so is provoking a growing tug of war at the local level. In the last few days, there have been two relevant moves in the tug-of-war between two very different visions. In Catalonia, a manifesto supported by experts from very different fields was presented on Monday, calling for an acceleration of the development of renewables in this community: "Photovoltaic plants and wind farms - onshore and offshore - must become part of our landscape", says the text supported by prestigious scientists such as the National Geographic explorer Enric Sala, the marine ecologist of the Center for Advanced Studies of Blanes (CEAB- CSIC) Kike Ballesteros or the executive director of the international consortium Global Carbon Project, Pep Canadell. Almost at the same time, in the Valencian Community, just a few days before, the general director of Ecological Transition, Pedro Fresco, was dismissed, precisely one of the voices defending the need to accelerate the construction of photovoltaic and wind power plants in Spain, amid strong disagreements with Compromís, a party that advocates starting with smaller solar projects on rooftops.

      In contrast to those calling for acceleration, others prefer to put the brakes on. "We believe that part of that manifesto [in Catalonia] is poorly focused, because renewables have to go on anthropized spaces and fundamentally in small projects, there are scientists who support that text, but there are also a lot of scientists who say that part of its conclusions are not correct," says Montserrat Coberó Farrés, of the Xarxa Catalana per una Transició Energètica Justa, an organization very critical of the installation of photovoltaic power plants on current irrigated land. Although Catalonia is one of the communities that is adding the fewest renewable megawatts to its territory (in 2021 it generated only 17.5% of electricity from renewable sources, compared to 46.7% for Spain as a whole), Coberó Farrés does not believe that now is the time to think big, but quite the opposite. "Evidently, we all want to move towards renewables, but we are convinced that it is much more sustainable and resilient to base renewables above all on self-consumption projects, in families, industries, agricultural facilities, and in energy communities, with small projects that arise, if possible, from the initiatives of the territory itself," says the Catalan.

      Those calling for more haste in the face of the seriousness of the climate threat also support small-scale rooftop installations, but consider that this is not enough to quickly reduce the emissions that cause climate change. Fresco himself described as "barbaric" the proposal on the part of the Valencian government to start the deployment of photovoltaics by covering buildings with solar panels. "It is an unreal debate," says the former director general of Ecological Transition, who understands that this approach only seeks to divert attention because it would take more than 40 years to fill all the roofs to get less than 10% of the energy we need. "The climate emergency requires that everything be done at once," says Fresco, who assures that building 20 small plants requires much more work and time than building one that generates the same amount of energy.

      Apart from the size of the facilities, discrepancies also arise over the ownership of the plants and their location. Fernando Prieto, director of the Sustainability Observatory, is in favor of giving priority to self-consumption and energy communities beyond large companies and defends that California or countries like Australia have opted to cover buildings. "There are also soccer stadiums and train stations," he points out. In addition, he alleges that the Ministry of Transition's own Self-consumption Roadmap speaks of an important technical potential (169 GW) and that this would be the best option for highly populated territories such as Madrid, which is at the tail end of renewable generation, due to the scarce free surface it has. Likewise, this professor of Ecology considers that artificial surfaces such as landfills, dumps or greenhouses should be used first.

      Pedro Fresco does not rule out the use of degraded soils, but apart from the existing regulatory barriers, he warns of the collateral effects of this approach: "These can be far from the substations where the energy is to be dumped and, then, what it does is to fill the territory with high voltage lines to reach the nearest station". Although Fernando Prieto admits this problem, he considers that there are cases such as Teruel where there are dumps that already have the evacuation routes due to the existence of the Andorra thermal power station.

      Catalonia and the Valencian Community are, among the large communities, among the most delayed in the generation of renewable energy. The approval of small and medium-sized farms of up to 50 MW is in their hands. In both autonomous administrations, the promoters are also encountering obstacles to move forward with their plans, so that in the case of Catalonia they have opted to join several projects to bypass the autonomous administration and go directly to the state, which is the one that has to approve the large plans. The small-holding profile of these territories means that companies have to manage leases or land purchases with dozens, if not hundreds, of owners. "The bigger the plant, the fewer possible actors can aspire to make it," warns Pedro Fresco, who draws the paradox in the attempt to protect the landscape. Fernando Prieto advocates the proliferation of energy communities "because energy is not about big companies, it belongs to everyone".

      Between one and the other, Greenpeace defends citizen energy and also large plants, but what it does not agree on is that this is the time to slow down. "Evidently, where it is most necessary to promote and support citizen energy, so that it is in the hands of the people, whatever the size. And, of course, we must also continue with self-consumption, in the part that is less developed, which is shared," says José Luis García, energy expert of the environmental organization. "But there is no time; at the speed of climate change, the need to replace fossil fuels is of the utmost urgency, which means that renewables are needed at all scales".

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