Spain Takes All the Necessary Steps for the Development of Offshore Wind Farms

3 March 2023 - Antonio C. Jiménez Abraham

On 28 February 2023, the Spanish government approved the marine zoning plans that demarcate the Areas of High Potential for Offshore Wind Energy Production (ZAPERs). This the translation of the executive summary drawn up by the Spanish “Ministry for Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge”:

Areas of High Potential for Offshore Wind Energy Production in Spain

The areas classified as having “high potential” are those that are particularly suitable for deployment of infrastructures for commercial offshore wind energy harvesting, without prejudice to the fact that such projects may combine wind energy generation with other offshore renewable technologies. For a marine site to be declared “Area of High Potential for Offshore Wind Energy Production” (ZAPER), the site must meet the following technical criteria:

  • The available wind power must be ideal for commercial exploitation, reaching wind speed values of over 7.5 m/s at a height of 100 m for the four marine zones of the Spanish mainland and at a height of 140 m in the Canary Islands marine zones.
  • Water depth must not exceed 1000 m.
  • If possible, these areas must be located near an onshore area with electrical infrastructure suitable for exporting the electricity generated into the grid.
  • They must have been classified as ZAPERs in these zoning plans.

They must also meet the criteria of not being located in areas identified as incompatible with, or prohibitive of, the installation of wind power generators (whether bottom-fixed or floating) pursuant to the guidelines laid down by the Directorate General of Biodiversity, Forests and Desertification of the Spanish Ministry for Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge. Such incompatible areas are:

  • Declared SPAs (“Special Protection Areas” for birdlife) in the sea. Two areas under study within the framework of the Spanish INTEMARES project to be declared SPAs in the near future are the coastal sea area north of Barcelona and the Strait of Gibraltar.
  • Areas identified as “valuable and of interest” for seabirds in the gap analysis of marine Natura 2000 sites included in the INTEMARES project.
  • In SACs and SCIs, those areas where Habitats of Community Interest (types 1110, 1120, 1170, 1180, 8330) are present. This will be determined on the basis of official data and, where no such data is available, through the surveys that developers must undertake in this regard.
  • In the areas identified as “valuable or of interest” for habitats in the framework of the INTEMARES project – including the six areas under study to be declared SCIs in the near future, specifically the underwater mountains of Mallorca, Cap Bretón and Seco de Palos – those areas in which Habitats of Community Interest are present. This presence will be determined on the basis of official data and, where no such data is available, through the surveys that developers must undertake in this regard.
  • Species-Specific Critical Areas (Áreas Críticas de Especies), in particular regarding killer whales, beaked whales, sperm whales, porpoises, turtles and pilot whales[1].

As far as interactions with shipping and port activity are concerned, high-potential areas for offshore wind energy must not hinder port approach routes and manoeuvrability in ports; this includes the waters of the service area.

In these high-potential areas for offshore wind energy production, interactions with priority-use areas or other types of high-potential areas have been identified, as well as interactions with other spatial uses that will need to be considered in detail at project level.

Planning of uses and activities within the ZAPER areas

Planning shall be subject to the following standards:

  1. a) The competent public administrations shall ensure that no activity carried out in any ZAPER implies a permanent occupation that could jeopardise the development and operation of offshore wind energy facilities.
  2. b) Once a ZAPER has been occupied by offshore wind energy infrastructures, other zone planning measures may be adopted to establish the uses and activities that are necessary for the wind farms’ adequate operation.
  3. c) Any human use of, and activity in, areas adjacent to ZAPER areas, especially those located between ZAPERs and the coastline, shall facilitate the passage of electricity export routes (cabling and, if required, substations) that need to be deployed to connect an offshore wind energy harvesting area with the land.


Furthermore, for the purpose of facilitating the deployment of offshore wind energy for commercial exploitation as well as guaranteeing its coexistence with the rest of human uses and activities the following guidelines have been established. However, when an application for authorisation of a wind farm installation is processed and when the environmental assessment process for such a project is carried out, additional requirements may be defined.

  1. a) Commercial offshore wind farms to be installed in these areas shall occupy as little marine space as possible.
  2. b) Within each ZAPER, wind energy projects shall be carried out on those sites where, based on an ad-hoc forward analysis, the least impact on the seabird communities that occupy that area can be expected. A noise survey shall also be carried out to assess the average background noise levels.
  3. c) To appropriately assess the environmental impact of offshore wind energy projects, the following environmental aspects shall be taken into account, without prejudice to other relevant issues and those included in the guidelines in measure ER3:
  • Study of the birdlife potentially affected by the installation: This survey will have a minimum duration of one complete biological cycle of all the species present in the area of implementation of the project and its area of influx. For all the bird species detected, their degree of protection and threat, their conservation status at different scales, their use of the territory and associated movement patterns (feeding, reproduction, migration, etc.) must be described in order to analyse whether the species may be affected by the wind power plant.
  • Study of fauna potentially affected by noise emissions from the installation.
  • Description of the marine habitats affected by the project (wind turbines as well as transmission lines).
  • Analysis of the cumulative and synergistic effects of other nearby offshore wind energy projects, as well as projects of different types likely to have a negative impact on the environment, including biodiversity.
  • Noise survey prior to installation, during installation and during operation of the offshore wind farm to continuously monitor the evolution of noise in the areas affected by the wind farm and to feed a database of wind-farm-associated noise managed by the Spanish Subdirectorate General for Sea Protection in the framework of the Spanish government’s strategy on marine matters.
  • Landscape impact and integration study, considering observers from the shore as well as potential coastal and marine sites of special interest.
  • Survey of fishing activity in the area. Description of the types of fishing affected by the project and assessment of the effects depending on the type of fishing. Priority must be given to the coexistence of wind farms with existing fishing activity in the area, with special consideration for traditional fishing methods and sustainably managed fishing grounds.
  1. d) In cases where an Area of High Potential for Offshore Wind Energy Production overlaps with marine areas protected by the Natura 2000 network, potential projects must come with a detailed analysis of all technically and environmentally viable alternatives and provide a justification of the approach adopted, taking into account the effects of the project (not only of the wind farm itself but also of the power lines) on the area in question.
  2. e) For any project to be carried out within a ZAPER, it must be ensured that the least possible visual impact is caused from land, both from protected areas and from well-established tourist or residential areas, as well as from cultural heritage sites located on the coast.
  3. f) Any commercial offshore wind farm to be installed shall meet any and all requirements set out by the government agencies handling air and sea matters, pursuant to applicable regulations.
  4. g) Efforts shall be made for every commercial wind farm to identify, whenever possible, those fishing methods that can coexist with that wind farm or with other renewable energy sources to be implemented and efforts shall be made on the developer’s part to facilitate such coexistence.
  5. h) In areas where there is evidence of significant interaction with fishing grounds, including small-scale fisheries, options to minimise this impact shall be proposed.
  6. i) Efforts shall be made for every commercial wind farm to identify, whenever possible, those types of aquacultures that can coexist with that wind farm or with other renewable energies to be implemented and efforts shall be made on the developer’s part to facilitate such coexistence.
  7. j) Efforts shall be made to identify the types of vessels that can sail within the space occupied by the wind farm and to facilitate the passage of those vessels.
  8. k) When installing commercial offshore wind farms, especially in those ZAPERs with a larger surface area and which are located parallel to the coast, the necessary permeability of the ZAPERs should be facilitated to guarantee the transit of vessels, especially fishing fleets that go out from different points along the coast.
  9. l) Transmission routes for exporting the electrical energy generated to the grid shall be designed, inter alia, in accordance with the following criteria:
  • The least amount of available marine space shall be occupied.
  • Where there are existing cable routes or other infrastructures on the seabed, an attempt shall be made to make use of those.
  • A habitat description report shall be provided for the area to be crossed, in order to avoid affecting Habitats of Community Interest or other vulnerable and/or protected benthic habitats.
  • The transmission route shall also avoid affecting Areas of Priority Use for the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage, or other areas where there is evidence of the presence of cultural heritage.
  • Wherever possible, areas that are important for small-scale fishing and aquaculture shall be avoided.
  • Stipulations regarding environmental and territorial planning protection on land shall be respected in those areas where electricity is transmitted to shore and fed into the grid.
  • Taking all of the above into account, joint efforts shall be made with the administrations concerned in order to ensure that there is a viable route that allows the export of electrical energy from the nearby facilities.
  1. m) Furthermore, the requirements and criteria established in the Strategic Environmental Declaration of the National Integrated Energy and Climate Plan 2021-2030, published by decision of 30 December 2020 of the Directorate General for Environmental Quality and Assessment (Spanish Official State Gazette of 11 January 2021) will also be taken into account.

[1] The requirements for these areas to be incompatible with wind farms are: 1) that they are officially declared as Species-Specific Critical Areas (e.g. for killer whales); 2) that they are identified in draft management plans for Natura 2000 sites (e.g. green turtle, pilot whale, bottlenose and angel shark in the Canary Islands ZEC management plans) or conservation/recovery plans (e.g. porpoise in draft recovery plan); 3) that they are based on a scientific paper attesting that the area meets the definition of a “Critical Area” laid down in Spanish Law 42/2007 of 13 December 2007)