renewable energy

How this village ended up with the cheapest electricity in Spain

A remote corner of Galicia is sharing the spoils of wind power with the big energy corporations

Deep within the province of Lugo, high in the hills of the Serra do Xistral, is a municipality where the wind has practically swept electricity bills into oblivion. For a year now, the local council of Muras has subsidized the bills of its 668 residents by using the taxes obtained from energy companies such as Acciona, Iberdrola and Norvento which have invaded their territory with 381 wind turbines.

José Manuel Felpeto in Muras.
José Manuel Felpeto in Muras.OSCAR CORRAL / EL PAÍS

“It's a question of social justice,” says Mayor Manuel Requeijo, from the Galician Nationalist Bloc (BNG) political party. “Until now, the residents haven’t benefited at all from the energy being produced here, despite the fact that they were putting up with the noise and the visual impact of the windmills. The profits went entirely to the energy companies, which don't even have a tax base in Galicia.”

We have opened a small door to the possibility that there are other ways of doing things Manuel Requeijo, Muras mayor

Since 2016, anyone registered as a resident in the municipality has the right to apply for help with their domestic electricity bill, a category which in this part of the world includes energy costs for farming and for bars that share a meter with an adjoining household. With a ceiling of €500, the council funds from 70% to 100% of the bill, with the latter rate applying to families on less than €9,500 a year.

Six out of 10 residents in the municipality are over 65 and survive on basic pensions, so most of the 170 families who have applied for help are on a 90% or 100% subsidy. “People who initially said they didn't need any help have ended up asking for it because of the rise in energy costs, a hike of 80% in the last 10 years,” says the mayor.

The Muras mountains have been filled with wind turbines since the mid 1990s. The energy companies were keen to exploit the strong winds that characterize this small rural community and, encouraged by the authorities, locals sold them land at rock bottom prices (€0.20 per square meter) only to be besieged by armies of wind turbines. “They said this land was worth nothing. The possibility of renting it to provide locals with an income never even came up,” says Requeijo.

Muras residents watched as the windmills reproduced at a vertiginous rate. Some of the 381 turbines were installed scarcely 400 meters from their homes, but the benefits were for the energy companies alone. And despite being surrounded by energy production, some residents, such as 80-year-old Germán, – the sole inhabitant left in Baxín – were living without any electricity at all. Now the council has made a point of getting these residents hooked up to the grid, a task they aim to complete by the end of the year.

We never imagined we would get any benefit from the wind turbines surrounding us José María Chao, farmer

José María Chao, a farmer from the village of Xestosa, is pleased with the developments. Until recently, he not only paid for the electricity on his farm but also for a portion of the street lighting in the village, along with his 15 neighbors. Now he pays just 10% of his own power bill while the council is to foot the bill for the street lighting. “It has been relief,” he confessed. “We never imagined we would get any benefit from the wind turbines surrounding us.”

Of the town’s €1.7 million budget for 2017, €1.5 million comes from the wind industry – €900,000 from corporate tax and €535,000 from the Environment Compensation Fund paid into by the energy companies in Galicia. The council uses €130,000 of this money to pay its residents’ electricity bills.

But Muras has more pressing concerns than the health of its coffers. There is its dwindling population to think about. Not only is the local school with its 10 pupils being threatened with closure, people interested in moving to Muras because of cheap energy are put off by the lack of work and adequate housing.

Still, there is no denying that the municipality has started something of a revolution against the energy giants. “We have opened a small door to the possibility that there are other ways of doing things,” says the mayor.

English version by Heather Galloway.

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