The demonstration (which Renewable Energy Magazine gave advance notice of on Monday) gave rise to less picturesque images of solar panels than we are accustomed to, such as that shown in the inset. It has to be a first for Renewable Energy Magazine to publish a photo showing solar energy advocates with photovoltaic (PV) panels at the ready facing up to a police cordon. The police were there to prevent the demonstrators from approaching the doors of the Congress in Spain’s capital.
Coming from all over Spain, participants raised banners with slogans against the retroactive application of cuts to solar photovoltaic feed-in tariffs and against the Government "because it has tricked us and has not fulfilled its obligations," in the words of Carlos Mateu from Suelo Solar, one of the organisers of the protest. "We want legal certainty for us and for all Spaniards… we're happy with the response because those who have come to protest are those who truly understand the reality of the industry".
We are not crooks!
Vicente Pérez Serna, the man behind the Serna Solar project, was one such protester. His array was installed in 2007 and consists of 450 kW photovoltaic panels in La Serna, Palencia. It was developed with the participation of most of the village’s inhabitants, just over one hundred in total, and even the municipality’s town hall. Vincent held a banner saying: We are not crooks! We are honest citizens! We believed in the word of the King and of the Government of Spain!
"We are tired of such manipulation in publications such as El Mundo, Intereconomía, etc... I recently talked to a member of parliament from Palencia and he confirmed that the Government is aware of the damage it is causing to many small producers. I came because it was my duty and because I cannot face the fact that they are portraying us as scammers, "he said.
Marcos Jensen works as a sales engineer at SolarWorld. "The Government says one thing today and does something else tomorrow. It happens with photovoltaics and other renewables. If the decree establishing retroactive cuts is approved, it will not only affect the past, in other words what has been installed so far, but will also affect the future, because we have become the laughing stock of the world and no one will invest in PV in Spain".
Jensen has a 5-kW installation in the town of Socuéllamos in Castile La Mancha, which forms part of a larger 4-MW solar park. "The cap on hours will mean a reduction in revenue of 30% for me. Now I am earning €6,000 a year now, which I am mostly using to repay the loan the bank gave me, but with the cap, I will be bringing in up to €2,000 less".
The ruin of the sector
Francisco Nadal came to Madrid from Murcia to represent 33 100-kW plants located in different towns across Murcia and Almeria. He believes that "the Government is bowing to the pressures of major energy companies and is misleading citizens into believing that the tariff deficit is a problem created by renewables. We feel cheated by Sebastián [Spain’s Minister for Industry] and Zapatero [the Spanish President] who boast about the potential of the renewables sector in Spain while visiting other countries, when in reality they are ruining it".
Also present at yesterday’s demonstration was Tomás Díaz, Communications Director of the Spanish Photovoltaic Industry Association (ASIF), which encouraged its members to participate, but chose not to as an association "because we understand that this was a call for the outright rejection of Royal Decree Law 14/2010. ASIF is open to the law being processed as a bill which may include amendments. In other words, the house is on fire but the furniture is saved. How? For example, by trying to avoid the right given to the Government to adjust the cap on hours at any time, depending on technological developments".
Thousands of appeals possible
A royal decree law can only be used directly by the President of Spain, the Ombudsman, 50 members of congress, 50 senators, or by the governments of self-governing regions. However, the owners of more than 53,000 photovoltaic installations affected by Royal Decree Law 14/2010 are in a position to go to court to claim damages from the Administration for pecuniary liability (for details of how to claim for pecuniary liability, PV array owners who speak Spanish should refer to our article in Energías Renovables, which goes into more detail on this matter).
Indeed, the Photovoltaic Trade Association (AEF), the Photovoltaic Industry Association (ASIF) and the Association of Renewable Energy Producers (APPA) have all warned that the adoption of Royal Decree Law 14/2010 will lead to those affected filing hundreds of thousands of appeals to the courts. Given the long waiting list for hearings at the Supreme Court (around three years for this case), up to 630,000 appeals could accumulate until a ruling is actually passed.
Unfortunately for the courts, a deluge of such claims now looks certain, as it was announced during this writing of this article that the Congress had in fact approved Royal Decree Law 14/2010 earlier today, leading to uproar among ,members of the solar PV community. Although the vote was not clear cut (175 voting in favour, 12 against and 157 abstaining out of a total of 344), the retroactive cuts to the solar feed-in tariff and other damaging measures now look set to be introduced; clipping the wings of a sector which until recently, was in full flight.
Commenting on the news, the trade association, ASIF, said that “the disappointing outcome of the vote held today in Congress gravely damages the finances of thousands of companies and individuals which have invested more than €20 billion in PV in Spain”, adding that the measure could even “threaten the legal stability of the country”.
Meanwhile, the President of APPA, Javier García Breva, deascribed the news as “very negative,” stating that “there has been no room for the PV sector to defend its rights”.
He went on to say that “it appears Parliament has given itself over to the electric utilities to do away with the solar PV sector in this country”. Breva believes the only positive aspect to come out of Congress today is that it has opened the door to possible amendments to the royal decree in the Senate when the Upper Chamber meet to debate the proposed Sustainable Economy Law in Spain. “Let’s see if the disaster approved today can be amended,” he ended.
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