In April 2019, the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) won an overwhelming majority in the nation's parliament, promising to implement some of the world's most aggressive national initiatives to combat climate change. Known as the Spanish “Green New Deal,” it draws inspiration from a resolution to take on climate change introduced by US congressional representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Spanish officials are now seeking to source 100% of the country's energy needs from renewable technologies by 2050.
Spain's own lawmakers have drafted legislation that will overhaul the energy sector of Europe's fifth-largest economy, and they are currently under debate in parliament. If passed, Madrid plans to source 70% of Spain's energy needs from renewable technologies, such as solar and wind power, by 2030. The plan would also slash Spanish greenhouse gas emissions by 90% less than 1990 levels before 2050, in line with the Paris Climate Agreement. To achieve the ambitious plan, PSOE officials said they would install a minimum of 3GW of renewable energy sources every year for the coming decade.
“It sets a long-term goal, provides incentives on scaling up emissions technologies, and cares about a good transition for the workforce,” said Christiana Figueres, a former executive secretary of the UN's framework convention on climate change.
Figueres called the measure “an excellent example of the Paris Agreement,” signed in 2015.
A report by the International Energy Agency, published in 2016, found renewable sources supplied 23% of Spain's electricity needs. That is closely followed by nuclear power at just over 20%. To facilitate growth in the renewable energy sector, Minister for Ecological Transition Teresa Ribera has implemented various solar and wind energy-friendly reforms while also restructuring the national electricity grid.
In October 2018, Ribera scrapped a controversial levy on solar power, known as the “sun tax,” which charged households and small businesses an extra levy for installing solar panels on their property. The tax, implemented in 2015, has received criticism for stunting the growth of the Spanish solar energy market. Its abolishment could likely attract renewed investment in solar panels.
“This country is finally freeing itself from the great absurdity, scorned by most international observers. That is the sun tax,” Ribera said at a press conference. “A key figure showing Spain's delay in this area is that a country so rich in sunlight has only 1,000 installations of this kind, compared with more than 1 million in Germany.”
Taking note of the enthusiasm in the capital, renewable companies are taking advantage of the favorable business climate with a slew of large scale solar and wind power plant proposals. The Spanish electric utility, Iberdrola, is currently consulting with the environment ministry to build Europe's largest solar power farm in the western region of Extramadurra. With a EUR300-million investment plan, Iberdrola plans to build a 590-MW solar plant that will supply energy to 375,000 people every year.
“It is clear that policies led by Teresa Ribera have given investors more confidence to throw themselves into projects like the one that Ibedrola has announced,” Sergio de Otto, head of the Renewables Foundation, told Climate Home News.
“From our perspective, it is necessary that we—citizens and small businesses—lead the energy transition to 100% renewables by 2050, but we also understand the need for large solar plants produced by companies. We believe that in future these great installations will coexist with an extraordinary growth in small-scale renewables production. These are, therefore, two complementary models.”
Meanwhile, the nation's grid operator, Red Eléctrica de España, will invest EUR3.2 billion by 2022 to facilitate the energy transition. The goal is to integrate new electrical capacity brought online from new renewable sources into the Spanish distribution system.