Wind power has grown in Spain only because of the size of the subsidies involved
Heavy subsidies sustain Spain’s wind power
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-Dr. Stephen Murgatroyd, Columnist, Troy Media Corporation
Spain has a great many wind farms. In fact, by 2010, Spain will have 20,000 megawatts of installed capacity. At the peak of the winds this past February, it was able to generate 11,800 megawatts, or 29% of its energy requirements on a particular day (meaning that the turbines were working at 69% of their capacity).
Spain ranks third in the world for wind power, behind only Germany, at nearly 24,000 megawatts of capacity, and the United States, at No. 1, with over 25,000 megawatts.
But there’s a cost. Wind power has grown in Spain only because of the size of the subsidies involved. The case is the same for solar power.
For wind power, the subsidy consists of the market price (regulated by the government with the added requirement that the energy companies must buy wind power) plus 90% of the market price for a period of fifteen years, at which time it drops to 80%. In the case of solar power, the subsidy is 575% of the market price for twenty five years, when it falls to 460% above market.
Annually, the government-underwritten wind-power contracts are costing approximately Euro28.6 billion. It isn’t surprising that such levels of subsidies have led to the creation of overcapacity. The government’s 2008 target for growth in installed capacity for renewable power - 371 megawatts - actually turned into 2,934 megawatts . The Spanish government has since capped growth.
US President Barack Obama has already pointed to Spain as an example the US should follow. He may want to be cautious, however. A recent economic analysis from the Juan Carlos University in Madrid suggests that, rather than creating the 50,000 jobs the Spanish government claimed would be created, the net green jobs created are closer to 15,000. Most of these jobs are associated with construction, since few are required once construction is completed to maintain and manage the wind and solar installed capacity. What is more, renewable energy has led to lost jobs elsewhere (especially when coupled with the impact of the European Carbon Credit Trading System – cap and trade). The study just mentioned suggests that the net costs of creating a single sustainable green job are approximately Euro500 million. It also suggests that, for every green job created, some 3.9 jobs are lost in other sectors – someone has to pay for that subsidy level.
Further, Spain (as is the case in Germany and the US) realize that wind power is unreliable and has to be supported by “firming” – gas powered, nuclear or coal fired power to cover those periods when the wind is low but energy demand is high. As wind capacity increases, so too does the capacity of fossil fuel or nuclear systems to “cover” for low wind periods.
It is inevitable that these developments, which guarantee return on investment to wind power and solar companies of between 12 and 20% for up to 20 years, will increase energy costs and enlarge the number of people who experience energy poverty. It will also lead to companies being taxed more to pay for this scheme – estimates are that new green taxes cost Spanish companies some Euro15 billion in direct and indirect taxes over the last five years, some 35 times more than the original government estimate of Euro85 million.
So strong are the new taxes and regulatory challenges for Spanish companies that some are leaving Spain – Acerinox, the Spanish steel maker, is downsizing its operations and looking at whether it should stay in Spain.
No one, it seems, is able to make money selling wind power or solar energy unless it is heavily subsidized and the customer price is regulated. Those looking at renewable energy need to be careful and learn from the experience of Spain.