Building wind farms in Spain is not just a bed of roses. Government planning seeks to multiply current installed capacity by 2.5 times so that 81% of electricity will be of renewable origin in 2030. This deployment is causing regional tensions. But, in addition, half of the files of large wind projects (more than 50 megawatts, which are processed by the central administration) are resolved with a negative environmental impact statement or are archived, according to data from the Ministry of Environmental Transition.
Of the last 39 projects analyzed by central management in the round that ended January 25, only 20 (51%) achieved a positive environmental impact statement (the primary requirement for management authorization); Instead, 13 of them (33.5%) had a negative decision and six of them (15.5%) were archived. In terms of authority, files of up to 57% of the MVs at risk were proceeded with and the remainder either passively resolved or archived.
If regionally supervised projects (those of less than 50 MW) are included in the overall balance, 27% of resolved files did not receive an Environmental Impact Statement or were archived (32% in terms of megawatt capacity), according to the Association of Wind Energy (AEE), which has analyzed 557 files since 2018.
Reasons for refusal
The main reasons for these failures are insufficient information provided, severe environmental impact that could occur or insufficient corrective measures to avoid environmental damage.
Departmentally-approved environmental impact statements frequently impose substantial project modifications on promoters, with corrective or compensatory measures to protect threatened species (large birds of prey, such as Bonelli’s eagle, hawk or Montagu’s kitten) and others.
75% of projects undergo modifications that involve reductions in occupied surface area or equipment volume
For these reasons, “changes in the design of the evacuation lines, the burial of the lines, the obligation to move wind turbines or the cancellation of some of these machines” were requested, says Juan Virgilio Marquez, general manager of PREPA.
“Before the resolution of the Environmental Impact Statement, 75% of projects undergo modifications that include reductions in occupied surface area or volume of equipment to be installed,” says sources from the Ministry of Environmental Transition.
If lines are buried, costs can be more than quadrupled as far as the airline is concerned. “It’s very common for management to force burying a line and that makes the project unfeasible, because burying a line forces us to recalculate everything, and that makes it more expensive,” Marquez says.
As investment increases, projects may encounter financing problems.
Natural spaces tend to be avoided
“We assume that there is less and less risk of electrocution of birds in new power lines, but there are still many collisions and the increase in thousands of kilometers of power lines also increases this risk significantly,” says Ana Carrecondo, Coordinator of the Conservation Department of the Spanish Ornithological Society (SEO / BirdLife).
In general, installation of windmills tends to bypass the protected areas of the Natura 2000 network, “but promoters see no problem with placing them on their edges, right next to the line of these natural areas, in which the impact on birds could be practically the same,” complains Karikundo.
In general, companies take into account the zoning map of environmental sensitivity of the territory of the Ministry of Environmental Transition (which indicates that it is not recommended to place mills in areas of extreme environmental sensitivity)Because putting wind turbines there can be a dead end and full of litigation.
Important bird protection areas are affected
Promoters largely avoid placing windmills in nature’s grid areas, but instead Important Bird Protection Areas (IBAs) tend to be affected: Power lines sometimes cross protected areas, says SEO/BirdLife.
Of the more than 100 projects to which this organization has submitted claims between 2019 and 2022 (the ones it deems most worrisome), 20% are less than a kilometer of the Natura 2000 grid area or within (at least). In addition, 30% of them fall within an area classified as an Important Bird Protection Area.”
“Obviously, these projects are not a representative sample of all the projects that were tackled in that period, because they are the most worrying to us, but they show that the way things are done does not allow full guarantees that there will be no impact on areas of natural or legally protected value,” says Anna Karikundo, who proposes binding bans on areas of extreme environmental sensitivity due to “lack of planning.”
The concentration of mills causes the destruction and complete degradation of the habitats of birds
The most serious impacts occur because parks are often located too close together. “We’re talking hundreds of wind turbines all together, causing complete destruction and degradation of the birds’ habitat, to the point where it’s no longer suitable for them,” adds SEO/BirdLife. He denounced that the relatively small wind farms that have already been built are suffering from a large number of vultures and some vultures.
The biggest concern for environmental groups is the large parks. “We find ourselves with a series of parks, one next to the other, until the creation of an area dedicated to wind monoculture, in Teruel for example, which, in addition to environmental impact, prevents a balanced socio-economic development.”
Conditional positive environmental impact statements
Also driven by the need to comply with energy planning (and strict statutory deadlines for resolving files), the department approves positive environmental impact statements contingent upon subsequent biodiversity reporting (sometimes under regional jurisdiction) to better assess what corrective measures should be applied.
“The problem is that haste can weaken the quality of environmental assessments, or that impacts are underestimated or tend to be considered irrelevant when projects are authorized,” Karikundo explains. He adds that the required corrective actions will depend on post-monitoring, without an overall system in place to “effectively carry out such monitoring”.
The ministry notes that when a conditional environmental impact statement includes a request for third-party reports as a precondition for carrying out work, “what is indicated in those reports will be mandatory.” In addition, remember that “all projects have an environmental monitoring program that ensures good implementation,” so that checks can be carried out and information collected to verify compliance with these conditions.
Projects rejected by the administrations include those for the parks of Pisuerga, Rubagón (Palencia) or Cabeza Grande (Salamanca).
Often times, this suspense is due to the severe damage that may be done to the animals (black vulture, imperial vulture, or Bonelli’s vulture).
Complaints and litigation
In this new wave of environmental impact declarations, environmental organizations have not yet resorted to complaints or denunciations to the European Union, arguing that the authorized projects represent deficiencies in the environmental assessment carried out in Spain. The Commission requests that national administrative and judicial channels be exhausted, and there is a conviction that European cases will not conflict with Spanish environmental procedures and treatment (which guarantees guarantees) except in the most blatant cases.
The strategy is to file claims at the administrative processing stage of projects (“we are overwhelmed with the overwhelming number of cases”) and wait until if a favorable environmental impact declaration is revealed to be “manifestly unwarranted” (and once administrative authorization has been obtained) an appeal to litigation is made.