Monday, May 29

The wind farm project in front of Cabo de Gata against which environmentalists and fishermen have agreed

The Cabo de Gata Natural Park extends over 37,500 land hectares and 12,012 marine hectares. On land it is a steppe, almost desert-like extension that flows into the sea through cliffs, winding coves and some of the best-preserved beaches on the Mediterranean coast. In the sea, it houses a seabed with a great diversity, in which the meadows of Posidonia oceanica. It is also a transit area for birds and cetaceans.

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Next to this maritime-terrestrial park, the first of its kind in Andalusia, a company wants to install a 70 square kilometer wind farm, with a capacity to generate 300 MW and a planned investment of one billion euros, according to its promoters, which They defend that the chosen location, outside the limits of the natural park but 6.5 kilometers in a straight line from Punta de Los Muertos, is the best from a technical and environmental point of view.

The project, which can be consulted at web, would involve the installation of twenty floating wind turbines 261 meters above sea level (slightly less than the Eiffel Tower) and a rotor diameter of 236 meters, arranged in five lines of four wind turbines each, with a separation of 2 .4 kilometers between lines and 1.2 kilometers between wind turbines. The promoters assure that, being larger and having greater capacity, each mill could generate 15 MW, the equivalent of 60 hectares of solar panels. The energy generated would be transferred to the old Carboneras thermal power plant, recently closed down, through cables arranged on the seabed.

Ecologists and fishermen, against the project

The idea has put dozens of very heterogeneous associations and entities on guard, warning of the potential impact it would have on the landscape, birds, the marine environment, fishing activity or tourism. Friends of the Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park, the Las Negras Neighborhood Association, Associació Cetàcea, Grupo Ecologista Mediterráneo or the National Federation of Fishermen’s Guilds, among many others, have signed a manifesto of opposition to the park, and a request open on accumulates more than 10,000 signatures in just 24 hours.

“This is an area that must be protected,” claims Pilar González, spokesperson for the platform that brings together associations opposed to the project. Although the wind farm would not invade the land of the natural park, it would be so close that it would border several protected areas: the park itself, a Special Protection Area for Birds, a Special Conservation Area (ZEC) of the Natura 2000 Network, the Reserve of the Cabo de Gata-Níjar Biosphere, a Specially Protected Area of ​​Mediterranean Importance (ZEPIM) and a Marine Reserve.

“It is evident that the fauna does not understand administrative limits,” they say. “These legal limits, which are drawn on paper, are not going to protect them from a wind farm located less than five kilometers from the limit of a Natural Park with all the protection figures mentioned.” Environmentalists call for the precautionary principle to be applied, bearing in mind that wind farms have never been installed in this area of ​​the Mediterranean.

Possible effects on landscape and fauna

They warn of the possible effects on the birds, exposed to the direct impact and the modification of the currents generated by the enormous blades. In addition, this is a designated area Critical Habitat for Cetaceans. The floating platform on which the wind turbines are located is made of steel and consists of four tubular columns, like floats, with a diameter of 13.5 meters and a strut of about 32.7 meters, which are arranged forming the vertices of a square of about 68.5 meters on a side.

“Wind turbines are not a rubber duck that floats. They are anchored by a network of cables, which are a deadly trap for any marine animal that is not a centimeter-long fish,” warns Eva María Morón, who has spent twenty years rescuing turtles in this area of ​​the Mediterranean at the head of Equinac. He does not know how many pass through here on their long journeys, but every year they recover about 40 dead turtles, 90% of them in this area, the area with the highest mortality, and he believes that a new trap would increase mortality. It is also concerned about dolphins or whales, which can reach 27 meters in length and are highly protected.

In addition, those who oppose warn of the irreversible impact on the landscape. The park would be located in front of the coastal stretch that goes from La Isleta del Moro to Agua Amarga, less than five kilometers from the limit of the Natural Park. From Punta de Los Muertos it is 6.5 kilometers in a straight line; from Agua Amarga, ten; from Las Negras, twelve. From all these points the mills would be seen. González recalls that the Decree that protects Cabo de Gata as a Natural Park does so to guarantee “the conservation of its natural ecosystems and landscape values”, which are also decisive for the tourist attraction of the area. The landscape impact is not subjective: it exists, say opponents.

Area with potential for wind farms

The promoters defend themselves. They say that the location is optimal to take advantage of wind currents, that it has been chosen after studying many factors and that in the Maritime Space Management Plan (POEM) for Levante Almeriense it is qualified as “area of ​​high potential for offshore wind energy (ZAPER) LEBA-1”. However, the POEM is still provisional and could change. The promoters trust that the change will not affect them.

They also explain that an offshore wind farm is the best way to take advantage of the old Carboneras thermal power plant, with a capacity of 1,000 MW that is currently idle. “We are the only renewable solution that can evacuate electricity without land cables”, argues Javier Monfort, country manager of BlueFloat Energy, promoter of the project together with Sener Renewable Investments. They are backed by Quantum Energy Partners, a US company that manages $17 billion in renewable assets, they say.

To this they add the expectations of employment, assuring that they have already signed an agreement with Caldererías Indálicas, a company from Nijar, to participate in the development of the structures.

Regarding the landscape impact, they have just presented a visual studio showing what the horizon would look like from ten representative points along the coast. The mills can be seen from all points, especially from Playa de los Muertos, Las Negras, the Mesa Roldán Lighthouse or the Isleta del Moro. According to Monfort, to get an idea of ​​what it would look like from Los Muertos (the closest point), just extend your arm, raise your thumb and look at the first phalanx. “Everyone’s perception of how they look is already subjective. Our opinion is that it is clearly compatible.”

As for the concrete measures to mitigate its foreseeable impact, he alleges that it is soon. “Who is going to evaluate that the park is compatible with environmental conditions is MITECO, with a very serious and rigorous process. The measures are established as the environmental impact assessment process progresses”. And that process is still far from beginning.

Forecasts for 2026-2028

For now, Mar de Ágata is a project open to public consultation, which would eventually have to be approved by the Ministry for Ecological Transition. But while the POEM is not approved, the new Spanish Strategy for the Development of Offshore Wind and the decree that regulates how to request permits, a moratorium is in force that prevents further progress. “Right now we can’t even present the papers at the window,” says Monfort, who is not surprised by the strong rejection. “Our job now is to explain it, listen to it and adapt it within the limits set by the logic of economic profitability.”

If things go as your company wants, the wind farm could be operational between 2026 and 2028, after passing an environmental impact assessment and a construction phase that it estimates in two or three years. If things go the way fishermen, environmentalists and other associations want, the project to build a wind farm in front of Cabo de Gata, one of the areas with the greatest ecological and landscape wealth in the Spanish Mediterranean, will never materialize.