Despite having the ninth largest external debt in the world, Spain’s capacity for solar energy ranks as one of the highest, often receiving a nod of approval by environmentally concerned critics. But the onset of the debt crisis in 2008 resulted in difficulties with carrying out the government’s subsidy program for the panels, as well as a decreased demand for energy.
With debt continually growing, some estimating by nearly 26 billion euros, that decrease in demand has only persisted, if not worsened. Spain’s generation of solar power is now estimated to be 60% greater than any demand. Industry Minister Jose Manuel Soria defends the proposal to fine private users up to €30 million if their solar panels are not hooked to the national grid in order to be taxed and measured by claiming that these users benefit from having a back-up power system from the grid.
“The decree is an attack to market freedom that aims to prevent people from competing with established utilities,” Jose Donoso, managing director of Spain’s solar lobby group UNEF, said in an interview. “It’s like if they charged you when you turn off electric heaters and use a wood stove.”
Initial subsidizing of the solar industry incentivized individuals to pursue environmentally friendly means of self-generated energy. Opponents, however, argue that implementation would make self-generated solar energy more expensive, thus pushing more people back into the arms of its electrical grid counterpart. Spain’s shift in being the forerunner for supporting a clean, natural source of energy, to eradicating economic incentives, depicts the prioritization shifts that nations under debt undergo.
Perhaps a few years down the line, once a larger number of people were incentivized to turn towards solar energy in Spain, it would be a more viable means of steady income. But to play the hand too early results in at least two losses for the state: less trends towards clean energy, and less income in the long run. As individuals switch to the cheaper electrical grid once more, Spain’s capacity to utilize it as an export diminishes.
Debt destroys a nation’s priorities. Spain joins a long list of states that have essentially shown how fiscal desperation can lead to bad policy. The kind that does as much damage to the environment as it does a nation’s long-term well-being.
(Photo: Marco Cevat)