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Spain Finds 1-in-4 Solar Operators May Earn Excessive Subsidies

Spanish energy regulators are finding that more than one of every four solar power producers may have been collecting excessive subsidies.

The National Energy Commission, in its latest wave of investigations, suspended subsidy payments to 157 photovoltaic power installations for not meeting regulatory requirements, the regulator said late yesterday in statement. That brought to 808 the number of operators penalized this way out of 3,042 investigated so far this year.

The owners of photovoltaic parks and rooftop systems failed to prove they were capable of producing power by the Sept. 30, 2008, deadline to be eligible for earning the highest consumer-subsidized rate. That tariff is 47.5 euro cents (67.8 U.S. cents) a kilowatt-hour, or about nine times today’s spot price paid to operators of fossil fuel power plants.

Spain is trying to reduce aid for many of the nation’s renewable-energy plants as a way to lower electricity costs for businesses and homes and help the economy emerge from its worst slump in 60 years.

Armed with a law passed in 2010, the energy regulator this year requested more proof from 9,041 operators of solar plants and rooftop gear that they had completed all construction and permitting by the September 2008 deadline. Spanish news reports had suggested hundreds of entrepreneurs were illegally earning the top subsidized rate, which was lowered after 2008.

Some 840 operators agreed not to challenge the regulator and accept a lower subsidized price, of 32.6 cents a kilowatt-hour, for the power they produced, in a form of amnesty agreement that avoided them losing their entire subsidy payment.

That left 8,201 installations to be probed, and the commission said it has completed 3,042 cases, or 37 percent.

The suspensions handed out so far are “precautionary” until final judgments are made, the commission said.

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