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Spain's Navarre Region Runs with Renewable Energy

Energy Minute: A small region of Spain is far ahead of almost everyone in its use of renewable energy. It uses wind, solar, biomass and hydro to produce 60 percent of its power. (podcast)

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The reason it's hard to even get started discussing a national renewable portfolio standard in the United States is that every region has its strengths when it comes to resources -- wind in the Midwest, water in the Northwest, sun in the Southwest -- not to mention having their own utilities, industries, and cultures.

The Pacific Northwest, for example, gets over 60 percent of its energy from hydroelectric dams. Other regions are watching to see how the Northwest maintains that ratio as energy demand grows.

European leaders are paying close attention to a region of Spain that gets 60 percent of its energy from wind and solar power. Navarre is where they run with the bulls in the streets of Pamplona. It's about the size of Connecticut, situated on the mountainous border with France. Navarre was an independent kingdom in the Middle Ages, and it remains ardently autonomous today.

Navarre (or Navarra) has 1,100 wind turbines, plus biomass plants, solar thermal installations, and small hydroelectric dams. It also has the world's largest solar array, at nine and a half megawatts. Each panel is owned by an individual investor, who plunks down about US$64,000. Acciona, the company responsible for most of Spain's renewable energy projects, arranges the financing, operates the site, and collects the feed-in tariff. After about ten years, the panels are paid off, and the rest is profit for the investors.

All 27 member countries in the European Union are bound by a target of 20 percent renewable energy by 2020.

But, like the bulls in the streets of its capitol, Navarre isn't waiting.