Town in La Mancha Battles Against Windmills
Author: Alejandro Lifschitz
But unlike those in the Cervantes classic in which the confused Quixote jousts with a mill he mistakes for an ogre, these machines are not turning grain into flour but wind into energy.
Spain is the world's second-largest producer of wind power after Germany with 4,830 megawatts of installed capacity, nearly eight percent of the country's generation capacity.
With many of the best sites to install wind power generators already taken, promoters of wind parks are looking frantically for new places to garner the breezes to produce power.
Along the way they are clashing with small towns that don't want them. Although wind power does not burn fossil fuel, it does affect the environment by clearing woodland to build noisy and unsightly towers.
The 100 people of Luzaga - in La Mancha about 200 km (125 miles) northeast of Madrid - are mobilizing against a project by the Danish company Neg Micon to install 33 turbines outside town.
"We are not against wind power, but if they build a wind park here it will destroy the ecosystem surrounding the town," said Celso Hernando, 31, who is leading the movement against a wind park in Luzaga, which is surrounded by pines and oak-covered hills.
By itself the Castille-La Mancha region of Quixote's travels has as much wind power as the Netherlands.
There could be more clashes. The government projects wind power capacity will nearly triple to 13,000 megawatts by 2011 to help meet demand and reach Kyoto Protocol targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
If Neg Micon's plan goes forward, the 48 million euro ($54 million) investment to build 49.5 megawatts capacity would provide clean energy for 100,000 people.
"The project would have a major impact on the environment by destroying a Mediterranean ecosystem that is very valuable from a botanical point of view and wildlife point of view," said Alberto Mayor, a member of the environmental protection group Ecologists in Action.
WINDS OF CHANGE
Neg Micon says the ecologists do not have all their facts straight, but declined to go into detail. A spokesman said the project was going through the bureaucracy and that an environmental impact report would be required before approval.
People from the neighboring towns of Cortes de Tajuna and La Hocezuela de Ocen have joined the movement against wind power.
"There are towns that don't want to live next to a wind park. But we are trying to balance industry and the environment and, if the project fails to pass its environmental report, we won't approve it," said a spokesman for the Castille-La Mancha regional government.
The environmental group Greenpeace, which favors wind energy, says the main problem is simply that wind parks can be seen.
"Because they can be seen, they provoke a reaction, which is something that does not happen with most power plants that pollute," said Jose Luis Garcia, head of the clean energy campaign for Greenpeace in Spain.
"Even though there might be a case where the site selection was poorly done and the neighbors have a right to complain, the main concern of Greenpeace is to get rid of energy that could end life on this planet."