Under Obama, Spain’s Solar, Wind Energy Companies Invest Big In U.S.

Source: Daniel Basteiro, Huffington Post • Posted: Monday, January 21, 2013

MADRID — “We’ve got to make sure we’re building sources of energy for the future, not just thinking about next year, but 10 years from now, 20 years from now,” President Barack Obama said last fall during the second presidential debate, before a skeptical Mitt Romney. “That’s why we’ve invested in solar and wind power, biofuels and energy-efficient cars.”

These words sounded like celestial music to Spanish energy companies, and Obama’s reelection has been cause for celebration here. Spanish companies have been leading developers of solar and wind power, and have invested billions of dollars in the U.S. in recent years. With America’s push to develop the clean energy even further, there is an opportunity to greatly increase Spain’s output in these sectors, beyond regional partners like Latin America.

In recent years, Spanish investments in the U.S. have increased sevenfold, reaching $45 billion dollars in 2011, according to government data. Next year, the Spanish company Abengoa Solar is expected to complete construction of Solana, the world’s largest solar plant, in Gila Bend, Ariz.

Another Spanish company, Iberdrola, claims to be the second-largest wind operator in the U.S. wind energy sector behind Florida Power Energy, with 2.7 million customers in 23 states. Fully 38 percent of the company’s total energy production comes from the U.S.

During Obama’s first term, Iberdrola received over $1 billion in grants from the U.S. Treasury Department as part of the economic stimulus package — reportedly the largest amount ever awarded to a renewable energy company anywhere.

“The U.S. has been essential to our business in recent years,” said a spokesman for Iberdrola, who noted that Obama’s continued support for wind energy is “something we consider very positive.”

“Although energy prices are falling and there is uncertainty about the future, with Romney we wouldn’t have had such high expectations,” the spokesman said.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, wind could be the source of 20 percent of U.S. energy by 2030. No wonder, then, that other renewable energy companies, including Acciona and Gamesa, are also focusing most of their business in the U.S.

“Several companies have come here in recent years and we anticipate a second wave during this second term,” said Ramon Gil-Casares, Spain’s ambassador in Washington. “Due to the [economic] crisis, Spain’s image has not been the best lately, but we trust that the $45 billion investment that Spain maintains in the U.S. will continue to increase,” he assured HuffPost Spain. In total, he stated, Spanish companies create 70,000 direct jobs and 300,000 indirect jobs in the U.S., making Spain its 13th-largest investor.

Beyond clean energy, large Spanish companies also aspire to build bridges, roads and trains in the U.S. Obama has said that investing in infrastructure remains a priority for his second term. Such investments could help Spanish companies expand their businesses beyond Latin America.

“Before coming to the U.S., Spanish companies already had a great experience in Latin America, a more obvious market, but which doesn’t offer the same legal security as the U.S.,” said Manuel Romera, director of the financial department at Instituto de Empresa Business School, one of the leading business schools in Spain.

Construction company Sacyr, for example, won a $3.2 billion contract to expand the Panama Canal. The oil company Repsol, on the other hand, was less fortunate. Last year, Argentina’s president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, decided to nationalize YPF, the local subsidiary. The move caused a diplomatic rift between Spain and Argentina, with Madrid threatening trade retaliation and claiming that Buenos Aires had “broken the friendship” between the two nations.

There is no such risk in the U.S., where the political and economic climate continue to favor private businesses, and where there are more opportunities for new public infrastructure contracts both statewide and locally. For example, in 2012, the Spanish company ACS (Actividades de Construcción y Servicios) was granted $925 million dollars by the state of New York to lead the development of the city’s subway. A consortium led by Ferrovial will receive $1.5 billion dollars for the construction of U.S. Route 460 in Virginia. And FCC was given $725 million dollars to build the Gerald Desmond bridge in Los Angeles, a work promoted by the local Port Authority and the California government. FCC alone aspires to secure $9 billion dollars in contracts in the U.S. in the next few years.

Improving U.S. investments will be a top priority for Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who will travel to Washington in the spring to celebrate his first official meeting with Obama.