Figs of Steel: 24 Hours in la Mancha 17

However, just as Spain was enjoying some good press for a job well done, everything changed, and rather dramatically. Starting about 2012, new renewable energy installations both in the wind and solar power departments all but came to a screeching halt. The national government had cut back on subventions in the face of a crippling recession. At least, that was the most obvious culprit. But there was more to it than just a limping economy. Analysts argued Spain had been producing more electricity than it needed and at a very high running cost, which meant sales revenue came in well below the money that went into it. In short, they were losing money; especially the power companies. This lopsided budgeting has been attributed to excessive enthusiasm and poor planning, a dangerous combination in any project.

          In addition to slashing public funding, the government went to other great lengths to make going green about as enticing as defrosting a freezer on a Saturday evening. Whereas other countries’ private producers could both use energy they generated for free and then sell the extra juice to the national grid, in Spain, that was simply not possible. In addition, the administration tacked on absurd duties, like the infamous “sun tax”, which levied a maintenance cost on some of those who self-consumed renewable energy and were connected to the grid, even if they did not use it. As you can imagine, this and other measures were enormously unpopular.

          For the next four years, new clean energy investments and permits fell to near anemic levels, spelling a period of disillusionment, frustration and chaos. This was in direct contrast to what just about every other developed nation was doing during the same period. As a consequence, Spain began to slip in the rankings. The rest of the world had caught up to and, in some cases, even overtaken Spain’s once prestigious position; before you knew it, the country was hardly mentioned in reports and articles touting its bright future of the industry disappeared.

          The numbers say it all. For example, in wind power, Spain was third in this sector in 2006 with 11,630 MW of installed capacity. That shot up to 22,676 MW in the next four years, before the effects of the recession really took hold. Since then, the capacity has continued to ascend, but ever so slowly. Between the years 2012 and 2018, the increase has gone from 22,796 to 23,494, an insignificant +698 MW. By comparison, this is what other countries have done:

COUNTRY 2012 MW 2018 MW Variation MW
GERMANY 31,332 59,331 +27,999
INDIA 18,421 35,129 +18,708
U.K. 8,445 20,170 +11,725
FRANCE 7,196 15,301 +8,105
BRAZIL 2,508 14,707 +12,119
USA 60,007 96,665 +36,658
CANADA 6,200 12,018 +5,818

As we can see, many other nations which were well behind Spain when Modern Family first aired on TV are on its heels.

          Something similar happened to solar power. As we know, it got off to a great start, but then suddenly froze. Now Spain lags sorely behind nations where cloud-cover is a standard backdrop to any given selfie. Here’s a chart on photovoltaic production in megawatts to illustrate my point:

COUNTRY 2011 2016
GERMANY 24,875 41,340
ITALY 12,764 19,274
U.K. 1,014 11,562
FRANCE 2,831 7,165
SPAIN 4,214 4,801

And if you take into account that, in 2014, the output in Spain was at 4,874MW, the findings are even more tragic. Once a role model for many countries, Spain had become one of the few which actually reduced its volume.

          The recent change to a more eco-friendly administration has rekindled hope, as it should. Since its tenuous arrival in June of 2018, the Socialist Party run government has passed legislation that appears to return the country to its original ecological path. Parliament has scrapped the sun tax, streamlined the paperwork necessary to start self-consumption, and made plans to scale back and eventually eliminate coal-based power plants. The goal has been set for 2050 as the target year for becoming 100% renewable energy reliant. It’s nice to know that windmills, in their own way, have managed to survive the march of time and proven themselves even more valuable than ever. Just quite possibly the once considered impossible dream will come true.

          Back in my own private Idaho, I was in the middle of a very personal debate. The issue at hand was just where to place the waistline of my bathing suit so as to reduce the waist of my body. The low cut felt better but allowed for a little bit too much “lippage”, as I like to call it. The overhang gave me an aura of something lethargic, something often in search of food. I tugged it higher up to around belly button level, solving one problem but creating another. Now I gave the distinct impression that I pumped gas for a living. 

          Laura was already in the water and calling me to come out.

          “I’ll be there in a second. I’m checking out my girth.”

          “Excuse me?”

          Fernando intervened. “Spend any more time in there and I’m going to start thinking you’re up to no good.”

          “I’m coming!” I emerged to the brightness of the evening sun.

          Laura was already floating in the water and looking like she was born to swim. This is one of those occasions where you want to say, “you look like seal,” in reference to how natural and happy she looks in the icy water, but as a rule, women don’t like to be compared to polar marine mammals, regardless of one’s good intentions.

          “Come on in!” she cried.

          This time I adopted a radical and highly suicidal approach and jumped in without further thought. After hyperventilating for a minute, I said it felt great just to be nice, paddled wildly to the side of the pool, dragged myself from the water on to the Earth’s landmass with the gracefulness of the world’s first amphibian and let the sun’s renewable energy toast my skin until the shivering subsided. Then I plopped down on a lounge chair and talked to Fernando about Cebolla, because a couple of subjects piqued my curiosity. 

          “To begin with,” I asked. “Just how the hell did it get its name? ‘Cause I don’t see anyone selling onions around here.” 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *