Another one—yet another large-scale, landscape-devouring solar park planned for their backyard. The count is now at 24. As is usually the case, the first notice that the locals of Villamejil, a small town in northwest Spain, had that an energy company-investment firm was hoping to fill 700 hectares of their land with solar panels was a letter from the government notifying the village council that the public comment period on the company’s application had opened. The next day the announcement was made officially public in the Boletin Oficial de Estado (the official newsletter of the state).
But this time, they were prepared, and the resistance was firm.
According to the local news site iLeon.com, four representatives from Capital Energy met with two members of the village councils and Villamejil’s mayor, Alfonso Álvarez, a few days after their intention to build a solar park in the area became public. The energy company started their sales pitch with promises of discounted electricity for industries that came to the area, but the locals were not interested in turning their rural community into an energy-industrial park, discounted or not.
“I could understand if we were negotiating the installation of an industrial park for a small percentage of the municipality, but we are talking about almost fifty percent of the land mass of the towns of Villamejil and Castrillo, seven hundred hectares, and that is inadmissible,” Álvarez told them.
On its Facebook page, the grassroots group Cepeda Viva, representing residents of Villamejil and the surrounding villages, celebrated the clear stance of the mayor.
“Finally, the platform’s efforts are bearing fruit! Asking for explanations and advising through questions, we are supporting our mayors and local leaders against these multinational speculators. It’s one more step in the right direction and we keep going,” they wrote.
All over Spain, grassroots initiatives like Cepeda Viva are to putting up a fight against the mass installation of wind and solar energy parks. They have names like León Ruge (Leon Roars) and Plataforma Ciudadana “Alta Valduerna”—NO a los Macroproyectos Energéticos (Citizens’ Platforms “Alta Valduerna”—No to Macro Energy Projects), declarations of their existence as rural communities that will not be sacrificed to the ‘ecological transition.’ Even after energy companies like Capital Energy get government approval for their projects, they still have to acquire the one thing they don’t have—the land on which to build them.
This is where they can encounter either a willing local community or one that resists. Many local ‘peasants’ (meant as an affectionate comparison of their position relative to the global elites pushing for new forms of energy production) have pulled back the curtain on the false promises of wind and solar energy and are standing strong against big green energy. On social media and in formal and informal meetings with their neighbours, they say out loud the dirty secrets of supposedly clean and green energy, doing their best to form a democratic shield against technocrats and capitalists from Madrid to Brussels.
Cepeda Viva hosted one such truth-telling event, a panel discussion in mid-August, in the village of Sueros de Cepeda, just one of several they have organized in La Cepeda, their 500 square kilometre geographical-cultural subregion. They first explain the basics of the situation—that 24 wind and solar parks are planned on paper—and then expose the details that neither energy companies nor the government will.
“I have read dozens of these environmental impact studies,” said Silvia Alvarado Gonzalez from Cepeda Viva, lamenting how superficial they are.
They do not include the very long list of direct environmental impacts from the vast amounts of water needed to keep solar panels squeaky clean and operating at maximum efficiency, to heavy metals leaching into the soil, herbicides used to control vegetation growth running off into groundwater, and the sheer amount of heat that a field of solar panels produces. Meanwhile, the websites and marketing materials of energy companies are strewn with images of cows grazing in solar parks, which Alvarado Gonzalez considers false advertising.
“They picture it as compatible with farming,” Alvarado Gonzalez also said. “But it’s not. These parks are fenced and locked.”
Neither wind nor solar parks are compatible with what is left of economically viable rural activity whether agriculture or tourism, she added.
Villagers also fear for what will happen when these industrial installations reach the end of maximum efficiency, and so maximum profitability, typically twenty-five years for a solar park and the usual length of the rental contract that operators offer to landowners. They rarely want to buy the land, an indication to villagers that companies are only making a short-term investment. And then what?
Under Spanish and EU law, energy park operators are legally obligated to uninstall the facility and leave the area restored, which can cost millions of euros. But in a period of twenty-five years, a lot can change, from regulations to companies, potentially leaving locals unprotected. They also know an unscrupulous company has its ways of getting around the law.
“These companies already have an entire team of lawyers and the village council can’t even afford to hire one,” they warn.
Villagers are not, in principle, opposed to wind and solar energy being produced in their region or even in their village. They just want a different model—smaller scale and more thoughtfully implemented.
The figures of the energy transition show its functioning as a haphazard race to the electric grid. According to El País there are currently 147 gigabytes of renewable power with permission to connect to the electricity grid, almost triple the Government’s forecast for 2030, which remains at 57 gigabytes. The proposed projects that already have access permits would occupy an area of between 8,200 and 17,045 square kilometers, between 1.6% and 3.3% of the national territory, according to calculations by the ministry. Despite the impacts, there is not even a coherent strategy to implant wind and solar energy. In Aragon, a region in northeastern Spain targeted for wind parks and where one project, for example, includes an evacuation line spanning 184 km, parks working through administrative approval often overlap geographically.
Despite the cries for better planning, change is not likely to come soon. As Spanish national law stands right now, despite their industrial nature, wind and solar parks are an ‘allowed use’ on rural and agricultural lands.
When The European Conservative asked Antonio Turiel, energy expert and theoretical physicist, about national or regional efforts towards land use planning for wind and solar energy he responded with a laugh. One of the greatest critics of proposed energy transition, Turiel is a researcher at the Instituto de Ciencias del Mar, part of the national science research agency, and author of the book Petrocalipsis and the blog crashoil.blogspot.
“It’s a scam, that’s what it is, really,” Turiel said.
To what he affirmed as the legitimate environmental and social concerns of Spanish rural society he adds several more elements, from the fact that there is no evidence that the transition will reduce carbon emissions to the increasing costs of producing solar panels to evidence that even the mass implantation of wind and solar power are not capable of replacing the current system.
He also cites a specific example from his professional experience. He and his colleagues undertook an in-depth impact analysis of four offshore wind parks planned for the Gulf of Roses in the Mediterranean Sea, a highly sensitive area that many of the scientists he works with have been researching for three or four decades, and they reached the conclusion that the project as proposed would have serious negative impacts. They then presented their study to the Catalan regional parliament, responsible for approving the installations, and Turiel also presented the problematic miscalculations of the region’s energy transition. According to Turiel, their research was met with scepticism and derision by both politicians and the mainstream media, who seemed to consider a scientific report commissioned by the companies proposing the project a more reliable that the work of a public service research agency.
Politicians he said, are either “bought, ideologically motivated, or just stupid.”
Of the energy companies, he said, “They don’t care a bit about the environment.”
For them, according to Turiel, ‘renewable’ energy is simply a profitable, politically vaible alternative to oil, since the cheap oil has already been used up, and much of the easily acquired natural gas, too.
“We’ve moved from climate-change negacionistas (deniers) to climate-change negocionistas (businessmen),” he said.
To add insult to injury, these speculative adventures are now being funded by taxpayers through the allotment of billions in public money, particularly through EU pandemic-recovery funds.
It is a helter-skelter, now publicly-funded, race to the electricity grid, in which the ordinary citizen can find himself defenceless against the combined powers of money, government, and ideology. Not all of the 24 projects planned for La Cepeda or the rest of Spain will come to fruition. Energy companies are simply roving about the country looking for where they meet the least resistance or find they can flex their corporate muscles.
El Pais reports that in the south of Spain, Capital Energy, which, with 3,000 proposed projects is one of the main players in Spain’s ‘renewable energy’ game, is attempting to expropriate 64-year-old José Sánchez’s 10-hectare olive farm. To get Sanchez’s land for its 446 hectare-span of solar park, the company offered him a rent of 1,400 euros a year per hectare. He refused the deal as he earns five times more with his olives and wants to hand the farm down to his two sons. A few weeks later he received a notice that his land was being expropriated.
More than 400 diverse groups in Spain are calling for a moratorium on new energy projects while a coherent national plan is created, but their plea will likely fall on deaf political ears from the far left to the far right. VOX has condemned the energy transition as debilitating to Spain’s industry and proposed legislation to reopen nuclear power plants and allow mining in the country, but it has not made any moves to directly halt or even slow the mass implantation of wind and solar parks. At the same time, from Brussels the push continues to quicken the pace of the transition. On October 20, heads of EU member states asked the EU Commission to consider how it could use its emergency powers to lower the bureaucratic hurdles that wind and solar parks face, only making it that much easier to confiscate the livelihoods of farmers like José Sánchez.
Their fight is an uphill battle.