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Wind Turbines Electrifying Europe

Wind power is breezing ahead in Europe, the world's leading supplier of this renewable energy source. Government support, new technology, and efforts to curb earth-warming greenhouse gasses have spurred a wind-farm boom from Denmark to Scotland. The wind energy drive is also underway in Spain's northwestern Galicia province.

The wind turbines loom over this rugged chunk of Galicia, stretching over bare hills as far as the eye can see. This is the Faladoira wind farm, where 145 slim, long-legged machines are churning away on a chilly February morning.

Engineer Daniel Piniero clambers into the trunk of one of the hulking turbines to show a visitor the bowels of the machine - a 21st century version of an old-fashioned windmill.

Piniero says each wind turbine can produce about 66 kilowatts of power an hour, generating enough energy for 60,000 families. But the Faladoira wind farm represents only a fraction of Galicia's wind energy output.

During the past decade, wind energy has developed into a thriving business, generating not only electricity but also jobs and income in this rural region of fishermen and farmers that has been considered one of the poorest in Spain.

Galicia is at the forefront of a wind energy rush in Europe, which accounts for 80 percent of the global wind market.

Ramon Ordas Badia is the councilor of industrial and commercial innovation for Galicia's government, based in the regional capital of Santiago de Compostela.

Mr. Ordas says everyone in Galicia is in favor of wind energy, because they see it as a clean source of power that produces employment and income. Property owners are also earning money by renting out land that is unsuitable for agriculture to build wind farms.

The Galician government has been a strong promoter of wind energy development, and has subsidized part of the costs. But businesses like ENCYR, a renewable energy subsidiary of the Spanish power company Endesa, see wind energy as a good investment.

Manuel Gago Rodriguez, who heads ENCYR's northern regional office, believes interest in wind energy is likely to grow. Mr. Gago heads the local wind energy association, which includes many of the largest energy companies.

"Renewable energy has a big potential for growing in these [coming] years," he said. "We have been working very hard, not only Endesa, but all the electricity companies in Spain, and other enterprises that do not have relations with traditional electricity. Why do we have to work with this kind of energy? Because its necessary."

The newly ratified Kyoto Protocol to reduce global warming helps explain the new push to develop wind and other renewable energy sources in places like Galicia. Spain and other European countries are looking for clean energy alternatives to help curb their greenhouse gas emissions.

But there is another reason, advocates like Corin Millais say - wind energy is profitable. Mr. Millais heads the European Wind Energy Association, based in Brussels.

"Historically the issue of climate has been a major political driver for the wind industry in Europe, to the point where its a very successful affair," he said. "Growth rates in the European sector have been in the excess of 20 percent annually. We have a situation now where you have about 34,000 megawatts [of wind energy generated] in Europe - the market leader."

In Galicia, the wind energy industry has generated two-thousand new jobs, including those at the Faladoira wind farm.

Wind energy is also flourishing in Spanish provinces like Navarra, Aragon, and Castilla de Leone. Even industrialized Catalonia, which has traditionally relied on conventional power sources like oil and coal, recently announced plans to build up its wind energy sector.

Today, wind energy accounts for about six percent of Spain's power. But Manuel Bustos, international policy director of the Spanish renewable energy association, believes that figure will keep growing.

"Regions that were lagging behind have realized they have missed something very important for the future," he said. "Regions [in Spain] that have not installed a single megawatt, like Extramadura, are now ready for development."

Spain is not the only European country where wind energy is booming. Germany is the world's wind energy leader in total production. But Denmark, where about 20 percent of the nation's power comes from the wind, ranks number-one in per-capita terms.

Other countries like France, where wind energy accounts for about one percent of total power, still lag behind. But the European Union has stipulated that six percent of the regions total power production must be generated from wind by 2010.

But along with the enthusiasm, opposition to wind power is growing. Some environmentalists claim the huge wind turbines kill many migratory birds. Fishermen in southern Spain worry that plans for offshore wind farms will disrupt fish stocks and their fishing routes.

Scientist note that wind, by itself, is an unreliable source of energy. And a number of European citizens groups complain the wind farms are an eyesore.

Even in Galicia, where there appears to be little public opposition to the wind farms, some officials worry that future wind energy generation may ultimately be curbed by just how many turbines local residents are willing to tolerate. But Mr. Ordas, the Galician government official, is optimistic about the future of wind and of other renewable energy sources here.

Mr. Ordas says, more than half of Galicia's energy comes from wind and clean power. He believes that figure might rise to 90 percent just five years from now.