Spain’s government has come under fire after revelations that two independent reports addressing the issue of feed-in tariff cuts were never used.
The reports, from Boston Consulting Group and Roland Berger Strategy Associates, were commissioned in 2013 ahead of a legislative change that last year cost the renewable energy sector more than €2.26 billion ($2.41 billion), according to industry sources.
As part of a court action brought by Spain’s solar and wind sectors, it emerged last month that one report was never delivered and the other was handed in four months after the law was passed.
It is now known the government calculated the new payment rates itself through an agency called the Institute for Energy Savings and Diversification (IDAE in Spanish).
The Spanish Ministry of Industry, Energy and Tourism claims it split with Boston Consulting Group because of “repeated breaches of contract,” according to documentation submitted to Spain’s Supreme Court.
It also says a 198-page report from Roland Berger had been commissioned to provide an independent validation of IDAE’s figures.
IDAE’s 2013 bid documentation clearly states the studies should “evaluate and establish the standards for investment costs and operation for electricity generation technologies,” not act as a comparison for an existing framework.
According to press reports, the consultancy work cost a total of €595,000 ($634,000), with €300,000 ($320,000) going to Roland Berger and €295,000 ($314,000) to Boston Consulting Group. It is unclear how much Boston Consulting Group was paid in the end.
The fact that the Ministry never used independent studies to back up its renewable energy cuts is significant because industry bodies claim the legal changes are based on unfair and arbitrary parameters.
Last year’s Royal Decree 413/2014 (RD 413/2014) replaced renewable energy feed-in tariffs with a "reasonable return" of 7.4 percent over the lifetime of a plant.
It was introduced alongside Order IET/1045/2014, a 1,761-page document containing the various parameters for calculating the return for different types of renewable energy plants.
Critics have pointed out that the parameters are different from the profit-and-loss calculations that renewable energy developers relied on to make investments under the feed-in tariff regime.
Additionally, some renewable energy sectors have claimed the Ministry’s calculations do not even add up to the reasonable return figure it promised.
Although observers agree that the old feed-in tariff system needed to change because of overpayment, many developers feel renewable energies have been unfairly punished by the government.
After becoming a world leader in solar, with more than 4.6 gigawatts of solar PV installed by 2013, the new order has decimated cleantech investments in the country. Last year saw just 22 megawatts of solar installed across the whole country. It is unlikely that Spain will meet its 2020 targets for renewables set by the EU.
Meanwhile, the government is facing more than 400 legal claims from national and international solar and wind developers.
Spanish companies that financed plants with bank loans carrying interest rates close to or above the 7.398 percent level fixed by the government are having to fight back within Spain’s sluggish legal system. Meanwhile, foreign investors are going through global arbitration courts.
Spain currently faces 13 lawsuits for violation of the Energy Charter Treaty, more than any other country in the world. Here, too, the government is getting consultancies involved.
The accountancy firms Accuracy and BDO have been hired to provide expert witness services at a total cost of €2.18 million ($2.32 million). Up to €1 billion ($1.06 billion) in damages could be at stake, according to Spanish daily El Mundo.
Right now, the government needs all the help it can get. This year is an election year in Spain and the ruling People’s Party is facing an uncertain future after introducing unpopular austerity measures over the last three years.
Although the feed-in tariff cuts have largely dealt with the country’s energy revenue-cost imbalance, known as the "tariff deficit," Spanish consumers still face some of the highest power bills in Europe. Energy poverty is an election issue.
Against this backdrop, charges that the government used incomplete data to calculate returns for renewable energy are not helpful in an election year.
BDO Spain and the Spanish Ministry of Industry, Energy and Tourism did not return requests for information for this story. Boston Consulting Group and Roland Berger declined to comment. Accuracy returned our contact request but declined to comment.