Allegations of Fraud in Spanish PV Sector

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An interesting series of newsflashes have appeared in the Spanish press in the last few weeks. The articles were mainly re-hashes of a CNE (National Commission for Energy) report on the state of Spanish PV, but they made two pointedly interesting statements. 

Firstly, 3300MW of PV have apparently been installed in Spain, close to double the administrations expectation of 1600MW as of one year ago. That´s a stunning climb from the 371MW mark as of September 2007 and probably explains the giant sucking sound of global panel supply disappearing into the greedy Spanish maw during early 2008.

Secondly, and far more interestingly, is the CNE´s assertion that 46% of the installations that were completed prior to the September 28th deadline were connected under false or misleading circumstances. These included:

 – Installations that were still under construction

- Installations connected after the deadline but who managed to file their paperwork in advance

- Installations with transmission line problems or generation deficiencies

- and installations with lower power capacity than represented.

This makes perfect sense considering that failure to connect your installation as of the September 28th deadline meant that instead of a €0,44/kWh feed-in tariff and years of juicy cash flows underwriting your annual corporate retreat to Euro-Disney, your installation would have no feed-in tariff whatsoever and financiers would likely foreclose on your useless pile of panels.

Given the option of sharing a beer with Le Mickey Mouse or paying rent by hawking the dredges of copper in your inverters, most people sought innovative ways of connecting (or appearing to connect) their PV plants. Inspiring anecdotes include stories of installers, burned by their panel providers, removing panels from existing installations and installing them on new and incomplete projects just for as long as was necessary for the Utility to connect. Once inspected and connected, panels were returned to their original place (no doubt plugging the gaps at a later date). Other installers with no available transformer equipment apparently hired a mobile “transformer” truck that was used to provide temporary medium voltage step-up until the Utility had approved and connected the installation to the grid. Once connected, the truck switched off its engine and zoomed down the highway to the next distressed plant.

No word yet on whether or how much Utilities themselves were party to the process behind the creative problem solving.

Regardless, 46% seems high. I have a feeling that once the CNE has fully investigated the plants and their documentation, the official figure will be closer to 20%. Still, given the scope of possible fraudulent behavior in Spain, a fairly transparent market, I wonder how likely it is that places such as Italy and Bulgaria will prove to be the Shangri-Las of PV development now that Spain is facing a downturn.

 

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