May 9, 2014, 9:14 p.m.

418 solar panels and no money

 

After visiting the Coca Cola workers fighting for justice in Alicante, our journey continued to Lorca.

 

When we first got to La Jeresa, a cooperative of small scale photovoltaic investors, we were amazed. We were looking at a huge solar panel farm, with 418 panels sparkling in the sunlight. The philosophy of the cooperative is that everyone is a producer and owner. The revenue is the same for all members of the cooperative, and expenses for administration, energy and maintenance are shared.

 

La Jeresa was created in response to the campaign by the Spanish government promoting the investment in renewable energy in 2005. A law was drafted detailing the state subsidies for the construction of photovoltaic panels and for feed in tarriffs.

 

More than 50.000 people and their families in Spain followed the call, because they considered it a secure investment in a state subsidised programme that moreover promoted renewable energy as an alternative to petrol – a private contract between the government and its people, not between people and business as usual. A large number also invested their small state pension – of which today there is nothing left.

 

After the economic crisis, starting in 2010, changes to the law from 2005 were introduced and limitations to investment introduced by the government. A tax for renewable energy fed to the national grid was introduced, the amount limited and subsidies cut (for more info see here). Suddenly, the money these families had invested – their pensions, their future, their finance for their children’s education and future – was gone. Instead, they now have a huge debt and no way to pay for it.

 

The investors are upset about the unreliability of the legislature and they demand that their government pay their income, as the original law promised. However, there has been no alternative suggested by the government to finance these people’s debts. And what makes things worse, as one investor explains, is that the government tries to publicly frame the situation as if it is the renewable energy producers own fault, saying that they contribute to the deficit of energy provision. The investors feel deceived by their own government and feel defenceless.

 

The Spanish government did not realise, just how many people would invest in renewable energy and photovoltaic. It could not manage the amount of renweable energy fed to the national grid. „But“, as one of the investors remarks, „it is one thing to make a mistake, and another to betray your citizens.“

 

The conventional electricity companies in Spain, such as nuclear energy, are very powerful. Their electricity is framed as being „low-cost“, although the uncertain and dangerous question about the management of nuclear waste is not included in the calculation. „The government always pretends to care about the environment, regulating exhaust emmissions, but it is all lies,“ one investor says. Confronted with such powerful corporations and a government that deceives its people, the investors are dismayed: „They don’t let us live.“

 

The obstacles introduced to producing renewable energy are so ridiculous that the investors now even have to pay for the conventional energy they do not consume. People who wish to put up solar panels on their homes are no longer allowed.

 

Investors in renewable energy are unclear about European politics. They criticise that European norms are not obligatory for member states, and hence the goal of 20% renewable energy by 2020 is nothing but a guideline. Stronger competencies at the EU level would help the investors in their situation. „I’m a Europeanist,“ one investor emphasizes, „but what does it help to promote a project that in my life time does not help me? I cannot pay for my three kids. The government didn’t only fool us, it robbed us. No government can betray its people like this. What is left for our children, what do they do? Nobody will invest in Spain anymore.“

 

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