Spanish renewable-energy companies that once got Europe’s biggest subsidies are deserting the nation after the government shut off aid, pushing project developers and equipment-makers to work abroad or perish.
From wind-turbine maker Gamesa Corp. Tecnologica SA (GAM) to solar park developer T-Solar Global SA, companies are locked out of their home market for new business. These are the same suppliers that spearheaded more than $69 billion of wind and solar projects since 2004 that today supply more than 50 percent of Spain’s power demand on the most breezy and sunny days.
Saddled with a budget deficit more than twice the European Union limit and a ballooning gap between income and costs in its power system, Spain halted subsidies for new renewable-energy projects in January. The surprise move by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy one month after taking office helped pierce investor confidence in stable aid for clean energy across Europe.
“They destroyed the Spanish market overnight with the moratorium,” European Wind Energy Association Chief Executive Officer Christian Kjaer said in an interview. “The wider implication of this is that if Spanish politicians can do that, probably most European politicians can do that.”
Spain’s $69 billion of investment in power capacity from 2004 to 2011 was about triple the spending per capita in the U.S. in that period, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance data and U.S. Census Bureau population estimates. Most of the 2012-2013 spending will be for the legacy of projects approved before the aid cuts to wind, solar, biomass and co-generation.
Investment in solar photovoltaic alone is headed to skid to as little as $107 million in 2013 from $879 million this year and $1.5 billion last year, New Energy Finance estimated. For new wind projects, investment should plunge to $963 million in 2013 and $244 million in 2014 from $2 billion this year.
T-Solar, which became the world’s biggest solar-farm operator by leveraging its Spanish business, currently has more than 40 running in Spain, Italy and India. While it still makes solar panels in Orense, Spain, they’re bound for Peru.
“We have an important pipeline of projects, and it’s 100 percent outside Spain right now,” T-Solar Managing Director Juan Laso, who also heads the country’s photovoltaic power association, said in a telephone interview. “If you take such a brutal measure, what you do is oblige the industry to move out,” he said of the January moratorium.
Gamesa, the world’s fourth-biggest wind-turbine maker by market share according to Navigant Consulting Inc. (NCI) (NCI)’s BTM Consult unit, plans to reduce the factory output of its Spanish plants to 1,000 megawatts by 2013 from 1,200 megawatts at the end of last year.
Gamesa to India
Instead, Zamudio-based Gamesa is adding capacity in India where it plans to open a third factory this year. In 2011, the company got less than 9 percent of its revenue in its home nation, down from almost 33 percent in 2009. Former CEO Jorge Calvet didn’t mention Spain on a May 10 call with analysts after announcing the company’s first quarterly loss.
“The future is outside of Spain,” said Sean McLoughlin, clean energy analyst at HSBC Bank Plc in London. “Gamesa already moved most of their business out of Spain and the moratorium only helps to accelerate and complete that process.”
Thirty-one years ago, Spain erected its first wind turbine at Tarifa, a city on the peninsula’s southern tip that juts into the gusty Straits of Gibraltar which divide Spain from Morocco.
In the 2000s, Spain copied the German clean-power aid model, as did nations from Portugal to Israel and Japan, increasing subsidies to a pinnacle in 2007. That’s when a law granted 444 euros ($556) a megawatt-hour for home rooftop solar panels feeding the power grid, compared with an average 39 euros paid to competing coal- or gas-fired power plants.
By 2009, the consumer bill for clean-energy aid had risen to 6 billion euros a year, ahead of the 5.6 billion euros in Germany, whose economy is almost four times bigger, according to the Council of European Energy Regulators.
After four successive reductions in subsidies since then, the government on Jan. 27 this year announced the moratorium on aid for new projects. The next month Spain saw itself drop out of the 10 most attractive markets for renewable-energy investors for the first time, due to reduced aid, on an Ernst & Young ranking. Spain led the list from October 2003 through July 2006.
“What happened in Spain is that abruptly, they changed the industry by changing the policy, and that doesn’t help build a sustainable industry,” said Stephan Ritter, general manager of General Electric Co.’s European renewables unit.