Where Dalí once painted the sea, wind turbines are ready to rise

PORT LLIGAT, Spain — Moises Tibau boarded his small wooden boat at dawn, pushing from a steep outcrop past the house where Salvador Dalí composed some of his most famous surrealist paintings.

Mr Tibau, one of two remaining fishermen at this point in a Mediterranean town about 100 miles north of Barcelona, ​​was hoping for a catch of lobster, langoustine and scorpionfish. But as he slowly made his way to an otherwise deserted bay, Mr. Tibau was preoccupied by the looming threat of modernization.

Government officials are on the verge of approving the construction of a huge floating wind farm just offshore, and international energy companies are already scrambling to harness the volatile northerly winds in the region known as the Tramontana .

The surge comes as a deadly summer heatwave made worse by climate change threatens to break temperature records in England and spark wildfires in France, Spain, Portugal and Greece.

Dozens of turbines could soon pass on the horizon, providing urgently needed renewable energy to Catalonia, a part of Spain still heavily dependent on fossil fuels, but fundamentally changing the character of a region that has little changed since the days when Dalí walked the hills.

The controversial project on the Spanish coast is emblematic of a push-and-pull unfolding across Europe as officials race to cut global warming emissions by phasing out fossil fuels and building fast large-scale renewable energy projects. The war in Ukraine has added urgency to the effort, as European policymakers try to free themselves from their dependence on Russian oil and gas.

Yet, from the coast of Spain to the rivers of Albania, efforts to roll out large wind, solar and hydropower projects are facing obstacles such as NIMBYism, environmental concerns and a bureaucracy that hampers quick action.

Complicating matters is the fact that large wind and solar projects require significant space – something that can be hard to come by in Europe, a continent that also has thousands of years of cultural history and artefacts to grapple with. .

The rush to harness the Tramontana has emerged as the latest flashpoint in a growing debate over where to locate new renewable energy projects across Europe. As well as disrupting views depicted in masterpieces such as ‘The Persistence of Memory’, locals in this sleepy corner of Spain say the offshore wind farm would also spoil views of Cap de Creus Natural Park. , would place huge machines dangerously close to one of the largest marine reserves in Europe, deter tourists from visiting the picturesque town of Cadaqués and forever disrupt their bucolic way of life.

“As a local I’m mostly concerned about fishing, yes,” said Mr Tibau, 59, who has worked the waters for decades and opposes the project. “But also on the cultural spirit of Cadaqués, the landscape that inspired Dalí.”

Similar stories are unfolding across the continent. In northern France, scallop fishermen launched flares last year and blocked a boat that was working on the installation of one of the country’s first offshore wind farms, and in Sweden there is a resistance to a project to build wind farms in a pristine wilderness area.

Greek islanders stage violent protests against a major wind farm that locals say would destroy ancient forests and disrupt tourism, while in Italy a complicated permitting process is hampering companies’ ability to build wind projects there where they have already been approved.

Elsewhere in Spain, locals are opposing plans for a huge solar power plant in Andalusia which they say would disrupt an archaeologically sensitive site. And in Eastern Europe, activists recently scored a big victory when the Albanian government agreed not to dam the Vjosa River for hydropower.

“Despite the overwhelming consensus on the need for change, if you talk to people, they just don’t want a wind farm next to them,” said Viktor Katona, energy analyst at Kpler, a research. “NIMBYism is definitely there, but it’s also the fear of the unknown, and it’s a way of life.”

The vast majority of Europeans, including those in and around Port Lligat, support ambitious efforts to increase renewable energy.

“When I first saw it I was supportive,” said Josep Lloret, a prominent marine biologist who teaches at the nearby University of Girona. “We need solutions to mitigate climate change.

But as Mr Lloret pored over the details and began to consider the effects on the ecosystem, he clung to the project.

“This is one of the most important areas in the Mediterranean Sea,” he said, noting that the European Union had recently designated much of the nearby area as a marine reserve and that there is a nearby bird sanctuary on the coast. “It is a hotspot for biodiversity.

Other scientists are also concerned about the proposed wind farm. In a corner of a fish market in the nearby town of El Port de la Selva, Patricia Baena and Claudia Traboni, two marine biologists working for the Spanish government, were rehabilitating a type of soft coral that is often caught in fishing nets. sin.

They say if fishing in the area takes a toll on the coral, known as gorgonia, the effect of the wind farm could be worse, as the tall undersea cables that anchor the turbines to the sea floor lift silt and disrupt the fragile ecosystem. under the waves.

“They are like trees in the forest,” Ms Baena said. “If they disappear, then all the biodiversity associated with them will disappear.”

Commercial fishermen also oppose the wind project, fearing that its construction and equipment, including power transmission lines, could push valuable red shrimp further out to sea.

Guillermo Francisco Cornejo, 46, head of the fishermen’s guild at El Port de la Selva, said with the cost of fishing already high, the wind farm could make what is already a precarious livelihood unsustainable .

“They raise the price of gasoline, raise the price of electricity, and we’re trapped,” he said.

“You have to sacrifice parts of the sea,” said Mr. Lloret, the marine biologist. “But you have to find the places where you will do the least damage.”

The companies hoping to build the wind farms claim that their projects will not significantly disrupt the environment.

“There is a climate emergency, and these kinds of solutions are essential,” said Carlos Martin, chief executive of BlueFloat Energy, a Spanish company that plans to bid on the project later this year.

BlueFloat’s project would involve 35 turbines, each rising 856 feet above the water, and would produce about 500 megawatts of power, enough to supply about half of the local province’s power demand, which has about 750,000 inhabitants. Other companies are also preparing bids, some of which could involve more turbines. Government officials and companies working on the projects say the location just off Port Lligat is the best in the region for offshore wind due to the strong Tramontane winds.

Mr Martin argues that the fact that the wind turbines will be floating rather than fixed to the sea floor will reduce the long-term effects. And he said that while some environmental impact was unavoidable, the imperative to build new sources of clean energy outweighed those concerns.

“You can always see change as a threat,” Mr. Martin said. “But change can be an opportunity, and the opportunity here is incredible.”

As the war in Ukraine drags on, European leaders have decided to cut Russian oil and gas imports and pledged to accelerate the deployment of new renewable energy projects.

In 2020, renewable energies represented 22.1% of the energy consumed in the European Union, compared to only 12.2% in the United States. In May, the European Commission unveiled a plan to double the use of renewable energy by 2030.

Yet, with war driving up energy prices around the world, European leaders are beginning to set aside climate goals and focus on cutting energy costs, rolling back plans to shut down burning coal and investing billions in new natural gas infrastructure.

And even as governments rush to greenlight new projects, there is already a wide gap between what has been approved and what is under construction, as slow permits, protests and environmental reviews lead to delays. Across Europe, governments have approved about four times more wind power than is actually built, according to Energy Monitor, a research firm.

“People don’t like coal, oil and gas, but they don’t want other options,” said Katona, the energy analyst. “Government policies are still chaotic and it will be very difficult to find the solution.”

As Mr. Tibau set off to check the nets he had set two days earlier, with a full moon still behind him at daybreak, he passed a rocky peninsula that inspired artists such as Picasso, Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp. Atop a hill stood a lighthouse that served as the setting for Kirk Douglas’ 1971 film “Light at World’s End.”

Finally, he arrived at his buoy and immobilized his boat.

Working alone, Mr. Tibau hand-hauled up hundreds of meters of net, discarding protected sea cucumbers and smaller crustaceans. After half an hour of work, he made a respectable catch: a large lobster, a lionfish and a dozen langoustines.

Later in the day, chefs from nearby restaurants would come to the shady spot where Mr. Tibau mended his fillets and bought the morning’s catch for around $175.

It’s an arrangement that hasn’t changed much in half a century, when a previous generation of fishermen taught Mr. Tibau how to work this little stretch of sea.

“If Dalí were still alive today,” Mr. Tibau said, “he would have the power to end this project.”

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