Spanish Utility Faces Villagers’ Ire in Row Over Shrinking Reservoir
(Bloomberg) -- Iberdrola SA is facing an outcry after its hydropower generation activities caused water levels at a Spanish reservoir to drop dramatically.
The firm has drained 1,000 cubic hectometers (264 billion gallons) from the Ricobayo reservoir in western Spain in the space of about five months, sparking outrage in nearby towns and villages that rely on it for water supplies and summer tourism. Ricobayo is now about 11% full, while some nearby reservoirs are at 80% or even above 90% capacity in the case of the Castro reservoir, according to data from the Ecological Transition Ministry.
The rapid shrinkage of an expanse of water that was more than half full a year ago has led community leaders in the region to accuse the utility of pushing local interests aside in its drive to produce power.
“If there is no water, there’s no economic activity,” said Luis Alberto Miguel Alonso, the mayor of Muelas del Pan, a town whose water supply depends on Ricobayo.
Villages like his normally see their population grow fourfold during the summer, as people come on holiday with plans to fish or sail. But this year, the low water levels have kept visitors away, Alonso said in an interview.
The dispute is an example of how energy sources seen as sustainable can create tensions. In the U.S. and other countries, the proliferation of wind farms and solar plants has run up against opposition from residents fretting about their impact on communities and property prices.
Iberdrola insists it’s operating the reservoir in compliance with its concession contract.
The water level currently at 645 meters (2,116 feet) above sea level is higher than the 641 meters stipulated in the agreement, the company said in a statement. The reservoir has been below the current levels on several occasions in the last 20 years, Iberdrola said.
The Duero Hydrographic Confederation, an agency responsible for water management of the Duero river basin, said today it had won a commitment from Iberdrola not to lower water levels further.
Meanwhile, the Ecological Transition Ministry said the low water level is also due to maintenance works on a nearby power plant run by the firm, which has led to the greater use of water from Ricobayo.
In February, Iberdrola unveiled plans to invest 150 billion euros ($176 billion) this decade to cement its credentials as a green energy industry leader. The company has said it plans to boost capacity for hydroelectric power, a sustainable source of energy that helps to reduce greenhouse emissions, to 14 Gigawatts in 2025 from 13 GW now.
“We want to tell Iberdrola, who get a lot of publicity saying that they are as green a company as possible, that they please come and see the reservoir, which makes you want to cry,” said Luis Mezquita, the mayor of Manzanal del Barco, a village adjoining the reservoir, in an interview.
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