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Spain's northern coast pioneers wave energy

But that isn't good news for everyone in Arminza, where residents recall when nuclear power nearly came to town.

Crashing waves of the Cantabrian Sea are expected to power thousands of homes in northern Spain. (Michael Moffett/Global Post)

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ARMINZA, Spain — Spanish sun and Quixote's tilting windmills are renewable energy pictures that most often come to mind in Spain. Yet fishermen and surfers in towns along the northern Spanish coastline have long known of another natural energy source.

Waves are the target for the new Biscay Marine Energy Platform (BIMEP), currently being installed in the Basque village of Arminza. Looking to tap the energy of waves and distribute it throughout a power grid, BIMEP promises to be one of the most advanced energy systems in all of Europe.

But villagers welcome the project with mixed feelings. Distrust in what may come with BIMEP moves like an undercurrent in town. There’s a haunting heritage of opposition to energy plants on this coast that dates back to the 1970s, when the Lemoniz nuclear station was being planned for the area.

From the open sea to its land base, the 15-million euro BIMEP, promoted by EVE, or Ente Vasco de la Energia, the Basque energy board, will research, test and operate wave-energy systems.

A moored web energy converter, partly surfacing offshore, captures wave movement and transforms it into electricity that travels down through an umbilical cable to a dynamic cable on the seabed. This dynamic cable and others from other converters meet in a junction box. A static cable transmits all energy reaching the junction box to shore, where conventional underground terrestrial cables bring it to a substation. Fiber optic lines will carry data from the sea platform to shore. 

This wave energy infrastructure needs no fuel, and the goal is to provide 10 percent of the electricity in the Basque Country and up to 50 percent of electricity in Basque homes by 2020. The resulting CO2 emission savings of between 1.1 and 1.54 million tons annually are comparable to removing 25 percent of the cars from Basque roads in the same period, according to EVE.

But clean energy and becoming a model for marine technology is not enough for residents of this remote area.

“Almost nobody is in agreement,” said 74-year-old Jose Mari Martinez, an Arminza resident and retired fisherman.