Spain: The Rise of Eco-Corruption?

With governments outlining multi-billion dollar schemes to make investment in green energy more palatable, beware of a new trend: eco-corruption. That’s the take from a Mar. 22 article in British newspaper The Observer, which details the arrest of 19 people in Spain for alleged bribery charges linked to renewable energy projects.

All accused, including a small-town mayor in Northeast Spain, deny the charges. But their story should raise concerns for countries looking to cleantech investment to jumpstart their domestic economies. If Spain, which ranks in the top three for both global wind and solar generation respectively, can fall foul of this type of corruption, then others elsewhere — particularly in countries that want to mirror Spain’s renenwables development — may also attempt to skim money from government coffers.

According to The Observer:

“Generating companies pay €1m ($1.4 million) a year to the town hall in rent and taxes. Private landowners, many of whose families worked the hard, unforgiving land for centuries, share a further €0.5m ($700,000) a year. Planting windmills has proved far more lucrative than cultivating crops. Each brings in about €3,000 ($4,800) a year to the landowner…

“Clean energy is believed to have attracted dirty money, as the notoriously corrupt construction business sought ways to launder illegal earnings. Information about plans to build connection points to dump solar power into the grid also became hugely valuable: land prices around these points multiplied up to 10 times overnight.”

Indeed, eco-corruption already has spread to Italy, where police in February arrested eight people with connections to the Mafia on corruption charges related to a wind farm in Sicily. For sure, these incidences remain rare, but they do highlight an important point: with so much government money floating about, the threat of (eco)-corruption becomes a real danger.

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