Spain opens investigation after for-profit dams emptied during drought

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Spain opens investigation after for-profit dams emptied during drought


The Spanish government has opened an investigation after it emerged that a power company emptied two reservoirs during a heatwave and drought in order to take advantage of unusually high electricity prices.

Iberdrola, the country’s second-largest producer, emptied dams in Zamora and Cáceres provinces in western Spain over a period of a few weeks to produce cheap hydropower as consumer prices hit a record high.

Air conditioners and fans are on full blast as Spain remains in the throes of a heat wave. It recorded its highest temperature ever on Saturday, 47.2 ° C (117 ° F), in Cordoba in Andalusia.

Ecological Transition Minister Teresa Ribera called Iberdrola’s actions scandalous and wrote to the company.

“It cannot be allowed to happen,” she said in a TV interview. “Water is a scarce resource that is just as important for the well-being of families and the economy as it is for the production of electricity.

Ribera said she viewed Iberdrola’s actions as irresponsible, but that they were not illegal because the company was allowed to use a fixed amount of water per year when it wanted and under any conditions. climatic.

“It’s legitimate but not reasonable, which is why we want to intervene as soon as possible,” she said.

Both reservoirs are remote from the sea and were popular for swimming and boating, especially during the hot summer months. Today they are deserted, according to Javier Aguado, mayor of San Cebrián de Castro, one of the affected villages.

The Ricobayo reservoir in Zamora before it was drained to produce hydropower. Photograph: Joaquin Ossorio-Castillo / Alamy

In another, San Pedro de la Nave-Almendra, the water level is so low that the pumps that extract drinking water have become clogged with mud and the filters have to be cleaned twice a day.

Electricity prices in Spain are set daily through what is effectively an auction, as power producers bid for their end of the market based on expected demand.

A base price is set by the cost of nuclear power and renewables such as wind and solar, as these are the cheapest, and then the others – the producers of hydroelectricity and fossil fuels – do their bit. offer.

The net effect is that the higher the demand, the higher the price, with fluctuations making it nearly impossible for consumers to budget their electricity bill.

Emptying the reservoirs to speed up hydropower production allowed Iberdrola to bid for a bigger slice of the pie.

While the heatwave is expected to continue for several more days, most of the country faces temperatures ranging from 30 to 44 degrees.

Passengers who took the Albacete-Córdoba train on Friday are asking the national rail company Renfe for a refund after spending 4.5 hours in 45 ° C heat without air conditioning.

In Barcelona, ​​zookeepers give gorillas and chimpanzees ice cream to keep them cool.

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