Avoid Spain’s pitfalls in crafting clean-energy plans


ALGECIRAS, Spain — When driving through Don Quixote country in Spain’s Castille-La Mancha region, you are dazzled by the spectacle of wind farms proudly churning out the energy that will save Iberia and the planet, followed, once you cross into Andalusia, by solar farms and the green jobs of the future.
Except that if things continue as they are in Spain, the world’s poster child for renewable fuel, wind and solar energy may not save us after all — or renew the capitalist economy.
Spain is the third-largest producer of alternative energy, after the United States and Germany; if the relative sizes of its economy and population are taken into account, it is the largest. The first solar tower ever was set up near Seville. Next year, wind and solar energy will account for 30 percent of Spain’s energy matrix. Its wind turbines are a technological wonder — the United States imports many of them.

But this achievement is not the result of people’s choices and the healthy interplay of producers and consumers. Rather, it is a political scheme combining protectionism, mandates and subsidies. A few months ago, a study by Gabriel Calzada of King Juan Carlos University caused an international uproar when it disclosed that each green job was costing Spanish taxpayers between 540,000 and 1 million euros and entailed 2.2 jobs lost or not created because of the misallocation of capital. Despite 43 billion euros in subsidies, solar energy is still not a major component of the energy matrix, and Spain has not complied with the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.
Fiscal spending on green energy has created a financial deficit in the power industry as a whole, forcing the government to cut back 30 percent of handouts to the solar-energy producers. Thousands of jobs have been lost — part of the country’s painful 19 percent unemployment rate. Because of the politically induced concentration on renewable fuel, other priorities, such as setting up new and better electrical-grid connections with France, have been neglected.
Red Electrica de Espana, the government-owned company that runs the national power grid, has just put out a report admitting there is excess capacity in the wind-power industry: 5 percent of Spain’s wind energy will be wasted in 2014 because of insufficient demand. Things are expected to get a lot worse in 2016, even allowing for the 3 million electric cars that Spanish authorities (optimistically) project for that year.
GREENEX2010 will address solutions to fight global warming.