Business 28/03/2021

Catalonia, at the tail end of renewables

The country is struggling to meet European decarbonisation targets despite a flurry of projects to create new wind and solar photovoltaic farms.

3 min
Image of the generators of a wind farm in Batea, in the region of Terra Alta.

Catalonia is not the spearhead of renewable energy in the state. If in Spain renewable electricity is already more than half of the installed capacity (54%), in Catalonia it barely reaches 30%. Behind, only the Valencian Community (28%) and Murcia (29%) have less capacity, according to data from Xarxa Elètrica (the Electricity Network). In fact, Catalonia has only 6.5% of the renewable power installed in the state.

This also means that the weight of renewables in electricity generation in Catalonia is much lower than in Spain. Renewables in Catalonia barely reached 20% of electricity generation in 2020 (although there was a large growth of 48% of hydroelectric), while in the State as a whole it exceed 44%. Within renewables, Catalonia only stands out in hydro, which ranks fourth in the State in installed capacity (11.2%). But in newer technologies, such as wind and solar photovoltaic farms, the situation is much worse. It is the eighth community in solar (1% of the total) and sixth in wind (4.9% of the total). In the rest of renewables, such as biomass, it ranks fifth, but these technologies are only 1.1% of the installed capacity and 2% of the electricity production of the state.

The situation will worsen in the future when the three nuclear groups of Catalonia in Ascó and Vandellòs, which provide 54% of electricity generation, will be shut down over the next decade.

An avalanche of projects

The 2019 decree ends a decade of paralysis

At the end of 2019, after a decade of paralysis, a decree was approved to boost renewables in Catalonia. Since then and until this Friday, 281 projects of photovoltaic installations, with a power of just over 5,000 MW, and 127 wind projects, for another 5,000 MW, in addition to six projects that have been submitted to the ministry, of 900 MW more, have been presented to the Catalan Government.

Of these projects, 54 solar and 42 wind projects have already been declared non-viable on paper. But the process is slow and only two have begun processing, an element which is key -to start the processing- to get grid connections from Xarxa Elètrica. According to Manel Torrent, director of the Institut Català de l'Energia (Icaen) (Catalan Institute for Energy), approximately 60% of the projects can be declared viable and, in the end, "perhaps a third will be implemented".

Torrent sees the goal of reaching 10,000 MW of renewable energy by 2030 as difficult but achievable, but the 48,000 MW planned for 2050 as "very difficult". "We are a little short, we have to make a very big effort," says the president of the Clúster de l'Energia Eficient de Catalunya (CEEC) (Cluster for Efficent Energy of Catalonia), Esther Izquierdo.

The economic impact

More than 9,500 million in investment and the creation of new jobs

Achieving the goals set for 2030 would mobilize more than 9,500 million euros of investment, according to calculations by the employers' associations EolicCat and UnefCat. In addition, quality employment would be generated: 2,500 jobs per year during the current decade for the construction of the facilities and more than 580 direct and indirect jobs for the operation, according to the calculations of Jaume Morron, manager of EolicCat, in addition to the more than 80 million in municipal taxes that would be generated. "It would rain millions in depopulated regions", explains Morron. To this, one should add the rents to the owners of the land, which would add up to 6.7 million euros.

However, the manager of EolicCat warns: a new moratorium as proposed by the pre-agreement between ERC and CUP would scare away investors. "The message we give out is that we do not want to do it", says Jaume Morron. This is shared by Salvador Sedó, director of sustainability of the employers' organization Foment del Treball, who asks the administration "not to obstaculise it and negotiate with the territory". If the wind farms declared viable so far are built, this would generate a turnover of between 268 and 283 million euros per year for the sector, as well as saving more than 2.5 million tonnes of CO2, which, translated into money, amounts to between 105 and 109 million euros per year.

Dependence and networks

Failure to meet targets would force energy to be brought in from elsewhere

The supporters of renewables see in their implementation a possibility of reducing Catalonia's energy dependence. However, some voices, such as those of economists Miguel Puig and Andreu Mas-Colell, do not rule out consuming renewable energy generated in Aragon, where there are large projects underway and in the pipeline. But the model of the climate change law and the bases of the national pact for energy transition are committed to self-supply. "We have chosen to self-supply and internalize the impacts", acknowledges Manel Torrent, from Icaen.

However, in addition, access to the network can enhance the dependence to Aragon. Xarxa Elèctrica has a moratorium on access points to avoid speculation and order the network. And to be eligible for a connection the processing of the project must have been initiated. Morron points out that the slowdown in the processing of projects in Catalonia means that Xarxa Elèctrica's plans for the period 2021-2025, currently in the public information period, do not include new substations or the reinforcement of existing ones.