In the Galician municipality of Muras (Lugo), almost all the residents pay little or nothing for the electricity bill for their homes. Six years have passed since the local government transformed the taxes produced by the 381 wind turbines in its territory into a social bonus with which to lower the bill. “It was a matter of inexcusable social justice. It was our great government commitment and what, with all certainty, brought us to this consistory in 2015,” explains Manuel Requeijo, the mayor of Muras, of the Bloque Nacionalista Galego (BNG) . In a town hall where almost 90% of its 619 inhabitants are retirees – specifically, from the agricultural sector – all those families with incomes below 15,000 euros pay nothing for their contracts with electricity companies. But the aid is not only directed to them. The rest of households with higher incomes also receive discounts of up to 90%.
Experts accuse the Xunta of opening to the wind business all unprotected rustic land in Galicia
The high and windy mountains of the Serra do Xistral, among which Muras is found, have generated in this agro-livestock town hall the ideal breeding ground for energy multinationals to install their wind farms. Since the mid-1990s, they have not stopped welcoming the construction of new wind turbines. With twenty different wind farms and only 619 neighbors, in this small Lugo municipality they touch one mill for every two inhabitants: “Paradoxically, having three hundred mills a few meters from your home, on your own hill, does not make you self-sufficient in electrical energy. What we have done from the local government is not going to change the world, but it will help our neighbors to fight against energy poverty “, defends the councilor.
This municipal management led to the Spanish wind business association in May awarding them the Eolo Prize for Rural Integration of Wind Power 2021: “The wind farms in this area have led to significant economic and social development for the municipality, as well as the integration of a sustainable energy model with the use of natural resources within the framework of a local sustainable development policy “, justified the Wind Business Association in the press release in which the award was made public. However, local government, ecologists and researchers are not so in agreement that the depository of the benefits of this economic development is the Galician rural. “Generating four jobs with a multimillion dollar business is far from the expectations that we should have as a developing society that also suffers the environmental damage of destroying its ecosystems,” explains Belén Rodríguez, member of the Galiza Association for Ecolic Defense. For the mayor of Muras they are also “crumbs”. Proof that this economic development is ethereal is that, since the first wind turbine was installed in Muras, the population has not stopped decreasing.
According to the information provided by the Mayor’s Office, around 30% of municipal resources come from the wind sector. More than 800,000 euros that enter the municipal coffers through the economic activities tax (IAE), the IBI of special characteristics, or regional subsidies such as the Environmental Compensation Fund. “According to the study that the Galicia Wind Observatory is still doing for us, the 381 wind turbines installed in our territory could be generating 90 million euros. All for private companies such as Acciona, Endesa, Iberdrola and Norvento, which exploit the environmental potential of Muras and their benefits are taken far beyond the Galician, Spanish and even European borders “, laments Manuel Requeijo. “If China, Qatar or Italy take part of the profit generated by these mills, why can’t Galicia and Spain enter this business?”, Adds the mayor of Muras, referring to the possibility of creating a public energy company .
A town with wind, but without industry
To this day, the Galician Wind Observatory (OEGA) has become, by its own merit, the main counter-power that monitors the incursions of the multimillion-dollar wind business in the Galician mountains. Funded by the Juana de Vega and Isla Couto foundations, this group of researchers from the University of Vigo audits, criticizes and proposes the best strategies so that the development of wind farms is accompanied by economic growth that benefits Galician society in general. and to the most affected peoples in particular. For the spokesperson of the Galician Wind Observatory and also a professor of Applied Economics at the University of Vigo, the growth model of the wind sector promoted by the Xunta has “structural defects that will hardly be reversed in the coming years.”
“One of the biggest errors that we observe from the group is the absence of industrial investments. In almost 30 years of life, neither from the autonomous government nor from the state have there been transversal initiatives that adequately structure the wind business. There are no related industrial plans to public investments “, explains Professor Simón, who calls the economic and territorial impact of wind farms in Galicia” terrible “. “We produce a lot, but without our own technology. In fact, the trend is just the opposite,” he adds, pointing to the recent closure of Siemens-Gamesa, a company that produces blades for wind turbines based in As Somozas (A Coruña), which has left on the street to its 215 workers.
And in this line, the spokesperson for the Galicia Wind Observatory points out what he considers the second major structural defect in the sector: the capital accumulation model. “We need these companies to have a social capital participated by the Galician society, a real participation of the citizens in the promotion of new wind farms or in the repowering of the old ones,” he claims. “We are witnessing an absolute liberalization of the energy market and, if we do not reverse the trend, we will increasingly depend on foreign investment funds. We need to empower citizens. We need decentralization,” concludes Professor Xavier Simón.
For the Galician Wind Observatory, the wave of wind projects in the community is directly related to the liberalization of the sector promoted in 2017 by the Xunta, through the law to promote the implementation of business initiatives. “This became the wild West”, Assures Simón. “The current framework allows that, in Wind Development Areas that do not have mills, the first one to request a park there keeps the plot and no one else can settle in while the process lasts. Companies are encouraged to present many projects to cover all the land where wind power plants can be installed ”.
Neighbors defenseless against expropriation
In the last decade, community and state laws have greatly curtailed the rights of neighboring forest owners and communities. It is very easy for companies to access expropriation processes with low land prices, according to Simón: “There is not the slightest possibility that an owner will defend himself against a forced expropriation that has the attribute of public utility or social interest” . Given the lack of listening by the different political leaders, the work of the Galicia Wind Observatory has been moving towards dissemination: “If governments ignore our investigations, we have to inform citizens of the dangers to those who are faced when a commercial from a multinational electricity company shows up at their doorstep and tells them that he wants to buy a farm from them, “he concludes. “The companies in the wind business know well what they are doing. They buy soils classified as rustic at ridiculous prices and, with the complicity of the Xunta de Galicia, they transform them into industrial soils,” concludes the mayor of Muras, Manuel Requeijo.