Ratified by the European Union in 2002, the Kyoto Protocol (1997) was characterised as an instrument to control global warming by minimising greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Based on emission levels in 1990 (base year) and the economic situation of each country, the protocol establishes emissions ceilings to hold countries responsible for their emissions and promote the development of sustainable energy strategies (COELHO, 2007). According to the targets set, between 2008 and 2012, GHG emissions in Portugal could not exceed 27% of the energy consumed, which corresponds to 77,19 MT of CO2/year (IA, 2006).
Since the emission of European Directive 2001/77/EC, the production of wind energy in Europe has been promoted through the establishment of a legal and financial framework favouring the installation of wind farms, as well as greater access to financial investments (PORTAL ENERGIA, 2009). The main goals of the Europe 2020 Strategy are to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% and increase the production of energy based on renewable sources by at least 20% (NUNES et al., 2013).
The National Energy Strategy 2020 set the following goals on renewable energy sources for 2020: a) renewable sources shall make up 31% of gross final energy consumption, 60% of electricity generated and 10% of the energy consumed by the road transport sector; b) the consolidation of the industrial cluster linked to the production of wind power; c) the reduction of tariffs; and d) promote the micro-production programme for projects with a capacity of up to 150 kW or 250 kW (ARAÚJO, 2013).
The wind farm installed on Porto Santo Island (Madeira) in 1986 was the first one built in the country. Two years later, the Figueiral wind farm was established on the Azores islands and in 1992, the first farm on the mainland was set up in Sines. The growth and consolidation of wind power production is a reality in the country. A decade ago, there were only 441 wind turbines operating on 71 wind farms, with a capacity equivalent to 537 MW. In 2012, Portugal came in 10th in global wind power production. This position corresponds to over 4,398 MW of capacity, or the equivalent of 20% of the electricity consumed in the country (WIKIPEDIA, 2014). Today, there are close to 250 wind farms in place, the majority of which are in the centre-northern part of the country (NUNES et al., 2013).
Wind energy is presented as an energy source that generates fewer environmental impacts than other sources: four times less than natural gas, 10 times less than nuclear power stations and 20 times less than the production of electricity from coal and oil (ALVAREZ, 2006). Moreover, this energy has other advantages, such as availability, the possibility of helping reduce fossil fuel dependency and boost regional economic development, and the ease and rapidity involved in the installation of facilities (GREENPEACE, 2004; ESTANQUEIRO, 2005; ROMÃO, 2014).
However, the use of this energy source is not without controversy and conflict (DELICADO et al., 2013). The main arguments against it are related to doubts on its efficiency and sustainability. There are also questions on whether it is a secure source, as it is intermittent and variable, depends exclusively on wind and fluctuates along a baseline that cannot be adjusted to consumption needs (PORTAL ENERGIA, 2009). Experiences in some European countries give priority to storing energy in periods when energy consumption is low (COELHO, 2007).
Countries such as Germany and Denmark, which lead Europe with the highest number of wind farms, are beginning to question the efficiency of this energy source, as they have not managed to reduce the use of other polluting energy sources and therefore, it is not allowing them to lower their GHG emissions (PORTAL ENERGIA, 2009).
Ecological conservation is one of the most sensitive issues related to the establishment of wind farms. With regards to flora, the primary concern is with the preservation of native species that rely on specific characteristics of the regions’ geomorphological composition, such as limestone mountains. In relation to birds, attention is focused on the rate of mortality caused by birds and bats’ collusions with air turbines, primarily during more sensitive times of the year, such as migration and nesting seasons. The magnitude of these impacts will depend on the percentage of habitat destroyed, the potential exclusion of a given species and the accumulative effects resulting from the installation of a series of wind farms, which forces animals to migrate and causes flora and fauna species to disperse (PERCIVAL, 2003).
Another sensitive issue is the fact that the Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) do not give importance to the impacts of the low frequencies and vibrations on the population’s health. However, new guidelines based on scientific studies on the effects of the noise from wind farms establish that low-power wind turbines (2 MW) must be installed at least 2 km from housing, schools, hospitals and social facilities (PIERPONT, 2006; FREY & HADDEN, 2007; HARRY, 2007 apud COELHO, 2007).
Four conflicts associated with the installation of wind farms – Alvaiázere, Malhanito and Águas de Tábua, Cercal-Cadaval and Serra de Aires-Candeeiros –have gained greater visibility and prominence in the public sphere in Portugal. Located mainly in rural areas, wind farms in Portugal often coexist with historical landscapes of high scenic and heritage value. The “Vamos salvar Sortelha” (Let’s Save Sortelha) movement is a good example of a popular mobilisation in defence of the landscape in the region. The movement was able to collect a thousand signatures to stop a wind farm from being built in this historical village (BARLAVENTO, 2010).
The main argument used by groups opposing the installation of wind farms, including environmental organisations in favour of the use of renewable energy sources, is their location (DELICADO, 2014). The main environmental organisations involved are opposed to the establishment of farms in protected areas or Sites of Community Interest, which are supposed to be reserved for nature conservation. In accordance with the precautionary principle, wind farms must not be installed in protected areas, natural parks or Natura 2000 protected areas (SEO/BIRDLIFE, 2006 apud COELHO, 2007). Failure to comply with this principle can only be justified in cases of overriding public interest (NUNES et al., 2013).
These protests could have been an effective source of pressure in the wind farm projects in Águas de Tábua, Serra de Aire and Candeeiros.
Some studies have shown that public consultations are seen more as a moment for informing the public, rather than a space for actually discussing with people the projects’ pros and cons (LIMA, 2004). Environmental organisations highlight that there is often little information on the public consultation periods, gaining access to documentation on the project is difficult, alternatives to the project are not presented and the public debate often occurs when the works to install the wind farms are already in the construction phase (CHITO and CAIXINHAS, 1993). An example of this was the controversy over the installation of the Alvaiázere wind farm – a case where civil society was not included and did not participate in the public debate on the project. The local media and associations did not even raise the issue of the project in the public debate (NUNES et al., 2013).
In May 2016, ZERO-Associação Sistema Terrestre Sustentável (Association for a Sustainable Earth System) announced that Portugal ran for four days straight on renewable energy alone – that is, on wind, hydroelectric and solar power. The data, obtained in collaboration with the Portuguese Renewable Energy Association, confirm that from 6:45 am on May 7 to 5:45 pm on May 11, there was no need to resort to electricity produced by non-renewable sources, such as thermal power stations run on coal or natural gas. This was considered a remarkable step, and The Guardian chose it as one of the 12 key moments of the year in the field of science (LUSA, 2016).
In December 2016, the government announced that it would build an offshore wind power platform near Viana do Castelo. It will be the first pre-commercial wind farm, called Windfloat Atlantic, to adopt floating wind technology, which captures energy from waves. The project will be coordinated by EDP, in partnership with Principle Power, Repsol, Portugal Ventures and A. Silva Matos. According to the Plano de Investimento e Desenvolvimento - PDIRT 2016-2025 (the PDIRT 2016-2025 Investment and Development Plan), Windfloat will be connected to the national energy grid through a 17-km subsea power cable with a capacity for 150 KW, which will operate initially at 60 KW. Investments are estimated at 48 million euros and it was to be implemented in 2017 (LUSA, 2016).
The Douro Sul wind farm began to produce energy in February 2016 and is now fully operational. The wind farm extends over four municipalities in the district of Viseu and its 73 wind turbines produce close to 360 gigawatts of energy per year. It supplies close to 122,000 inhabitants with energy and is considered one of the biggest farms in Europe. It has one special feature: “Windart”, the highest wind power project (100 metres high) which consists of two wind turbines in Serra de Leomil, in the municipality of Moimenta da Beira that have been decorated by two well-known Portuguese artists, Joana Vasconcelos and Alexandre Farto (Vhils) (JC, 2017).
In early February 2017, the government announced it would invest over 800 million euros in renewable energies. Together, these projects will have an installed capacity of close to 750 MW. The government also granted licenses for new solar power stations, which will have a capacity of 380 MW, as well as three new biomass power stations with 41 MW in capacity. The central government added that EDP Renováveis announced, in partnership with wind turbine manufacturer Senvion, the installation of another 216 MW in wind farms. The Energy Union confirms that the share of energy from renewable sources has been on a steady rise since 2013 (LUSA, 2017).
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June 30, 2017.
Over the past decade, a legal and financial framework favouring the installation of wind farms has stimulated the production of wind energy in the European Union. The main objectives of the Europe 2020 Strategy are to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% and increase the production of energy based on renewable sources by at least 20%. Despite the numerous advantages that wind power has over other energy sources, such as fewer environmental impacts, it is not without controversy and conflicts, which are related to its efficiency and sustainability.