Spain: Agricultural land turning into solar farms
The renewable energy boom is returning to depopulated Spain. A real invasion of solar plants, offering good returns to farmers and tenants. Agricultural land an even wasteland in the less developed regions are in the focus of an intense search for land to meet clean energy target.
Spain, like the rest of the EU, has to meet its 32% renewable target by 2030. According to the sectoral organization Unión Española Fotovoltaica, this goal means that 3,000 solar megawatts (MW) must be added every year.
Resurrection after the renewables bubble
According to Red Eléctrica Española (REE), a partly state-owned and public limited Spanish corporation, which operates the national electricity grid in Spain, photovoltaic solar energy ended 2019 with more than 7,800 MW of installed power. It has been the technology that has most increased its presence, with an increase of 66% with respect to 2018.
After a six-year standstill, specialists are talking about a true resurrection of photovoltaic energy, which had its golden age in 2007 and 2008, a success ending in a bubble. To reach the current goals set, brokers and solar companies have launched a real race to find land on which to install solar farms.
Spain has the largest European plant in Mula (Murcia), with 494 MW, belonging to the Northleaf fund. The 175 MW Don Rodrigo’s (Sevilla) plant, built with German financing, has also been started up. Even Amazon Web Services (AWS) has given the green light to an ambitious solar farm southeast of Sevilla, which will provide 148 MW to its data centers and logistics network in Spain.
Up to 2,000 euros per hectare
The search for land to install solar plants is spreading throughout the country. Not any land is valid, but only those closest to the evacuation points set up by REE. If their proximity is to an electrical substation, the prices offered go up.
Offers range from 900 to 1,200 euros per year for the lease of an irrigated hectare and barely 300 for a rainfed one. In the best locations, they can go up to 2,000 euros. The proliferation of solar farms presents a good opportunity to improve farmers’ income.
Developers usually look for plots of land of a thousand hectares, something to have in mind as well, in a country where the land ownership is very fragmented.
The current situation also has side effects for the sector. According to the farmers’ organization Asaja, given the difficulty of the developers in reaching agreement with a large number of private owners, they are resorting to land belonging to public entities –neighborhood councils and municipalities- where there are farmers on lease who may be left without farmland.
Another reason for seeking communal land is that many lands owned are environmentally protected.
Lawyers inform that the contracts are very complex and sometimes abusive, so they remind farmers of the importance of legal advice before signing. Farmers are offered additional income to take over the lease of the land for 25 to 30 years. Approval of the solar park by the regional authorities usually takes about two years, at which point the developer does not start paying the agreed amount.
The map of solar farms in Spain
More than 60% of the installed power is concentrated in four regions (Fig. 1), where agricultural activity is very relevant as well. Castilla-La Mancha is the undisputed leader with 20% of all national power. Andalucía, Extremadura and Castilla y León follow it. In contrast, the regions with the least power are those in the north and northwest, with the fewest hours of sunshine.
Spain ranks fifth in terms of installed solar capacity. However, if one measures the weight that this technology has over the total installed capacity in each country, Spain would fall to thirteenth place.
Sources: Eleconomista.es and elespanol.com