Thursday, October 6

David against Goliath: the fight to keep Teruel’s ‘Eiffel Tower’ standing

On May 13, historic Bajo Aragón said goodbye to one of its main signs of identity; the cooling towers of the Andorra Thermal Power Plant disappeared in a matter of seconds from the landscape of which they had been a part for the last 40 years. Almost 300 kilos of explosives were necessary to wipe the three giants off the map. Its media finale was attended by representatives from Endesa, up to fifteen different media outlets and residents of the Andorran town and its surroundings.

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The demolition of these towers left orphaned the other great symbol of the plant, the chimney, which at 343 meters is the second tallest concrete structure in Spain and exceeds even the iconic Eiffel Tower in Paris. However, if decommissioning plans go ahead as scheduled, the chimney will be history next year, when it is scheduled to be demolished.

As was the case after the closure of the plant in 2020, the voices in favor of preserving this infrastructure – now only the chimney – have been raised both in the province and outside it and proposals have even emerged focused on giving it a “second life”. to industrial heritage. This is the case of the Aragonese artist, Miguel Ángel Arrudi, who proposes turning the chimney into a kind of panoramic cable car from which to contemplate the landscape with privileged views.

Already in 2019, Arrudi proposed to give a new use to the cooling towers by turning them into the axis of a sculpture park. He now focuses on the figure of the chimney, for which he has devised a kind of funicular with panoramic capsules that go up and down the structure. These capsules would be equipped with air conditioning and emergency equipment and would have capacity for between six and twelve people. The total route that users would make would be 850 meters —counting the ascent and descent— and in time it would take about 15 or 20 minutes. A slow journey to be able to “see and enjoy the entire landscape of Bajo Aragón and the mining basins from a bird’s eye view”, he relates.

His idea with this project is to provide the chimney with a utility that at least partially justifies its high maintenance costs, since this is one of the reasons that Ignacio Montaner, general director of Endesa in Aragón, argued in his day, why the preservation of the chimney is contemplated. “I am particularly of the opinion of reusing in a reasoned way the elements defined as industrial heritage, giving them new uses, and thus contributing to the circular economy that is talked about so much,” says Arrudi.

The project, which he has titled captives of oblivion, it aims to be not only a tourist attraction, but also educational, for this reason Arrudi includes classrooms for schoolchildren and workshops in the complex and mentions the possibility of creating a documentation center on new energies. He maintains that this new use of the chimney can be combined with the new renewable energy plants that the area will house once the Nudo Mudéjar is awarded. “Maintaining the chimney will mean, at the same time, showing the substantial change in the landscape in pursuit of the so-called Demographic Challenge, the Just Transition and Sustainable Development and in some way justifying it,” he points out.

In addition, Arrudi proposes that the structure of the chimney be enabled to house antennas and modern telecommunications systems. On the other hand, an artistic intervention would be carried out outside and at night it would become a light sculpture.

Preserving heritage, the general clamor

The rejection of the demolition of the iconic tower is widespread —especially in Andorra— and the local political parties have begun to echo the clamor of the neighbors. Last June, the Popular Party and Elijo Andorra presented a motion in extraordinary plenary session requesting the maintenance of the chimney of the Andorra Thermal Power Plant and its declaration as an Industrial Asset. They also asked that any procedure and management aimed at its demolition be paralyzed as it is “an emblem for the town and also for the province of Teruel.”

The rest of the parties expressed their agreement regarding the vision of the chimney as an emblem for Andorra, but pointed out that for its maintenance several issues must be studied, such as the annual cost that this would entail or the uses it could have to generate benefits. and be profitable. It was finally approved with seven votes in favor and five abstentions by the Socialist Party.

They are not the only ones calling for the preservation of the ‘Eiffel tower in Teruel’; name with which the Teruel Exists Electors Association baptized the fireplace. This group opposed the dismantling of the thermal plant from the beginning, pointing out that “it is not incompatible to maintain the industrial heritage with the development of renewable energies and, however, maintaining the heritage would give us an opportunity to diversify the economy of the territory” and pointing out that the plant “is one of the symbols that have identified the history of coal and mining in the province, it is a unique industrial heritage.”

However, the most critical voices have emerged from the public. Already in 2020, Rolde de Estudios Aragonese (REA) was the first to present a detailed study to justify its preservation of the thermal and that it be declared a Well Cataloged Aragonese Cultural Heritage. The request was supported by a scientific report by María Pilar Biel Ibáñez, member of the International Committee for the Conservation of Industrial Heritage and coordinator of the Master’s Degree in Cultural Heritage Management at the University of Zaragoza.

In this document, Biel not only defended the technological, architectural and territorial value of the plant, but also claimed a strategic plan for the territory focused on preserving the industrial landscape that had emerged as a result of energy generation and that would also include the mines and the mining railway.

However, his efforts were in vain. “We came face to face with the wall of the General Directorate of Cultural Heritage of the Government of Aragon, which denied our request,” says Vicente Ibáñez, a member of the Platform in defense of the industrial heritage of the Andorran thermal power plant, to which it belongs Rolle.

Nor did the Association of Public Action for the Defense of the Aragonese Heritage (Apudepa) manage to stop the dismantling. Its president, Belén Boloqui, alleged on May 13, when the towers were dynamited, that they fell “by the will of the power represented by Endesa” and added “that power allied with the governments, with that of Aragon and with MITECO” . She also lamented that the industrial heritage “is still not sufficiently protected neither by the Spanish Historical Heritage Law nor by the Aragonese Cultural Heritage Law”.