Interview with Pep Puig, vice-President of EUROSOLAR
Toni Strubell is a former MP in the Catalan Parliament, journalist, and author of What Catalans Want
Núria Bassa Camps is a Catalan Photo Journalist
Photo by Núria Bassa
Josep Puig is vice-president of Eurosolar (European Association for Renewable Energy) and one of the most reputed renewable energies and anti-nuclear experts in Catalonia. As a committed intellectual and university teacher, he is one of the most outspoken critics of Spain’s refusal to develop solar and other renewable energy projects and points to the unconfessable interests that lie behind such praxis. For years he has been a member of Alternativa Verda (Green Alternative) and has participated in various attempts to find a permanent political foothold for ecological action in Catalan and Spanish politics.
Spain has more solar energy potential that most other countries in Europe and yet seems to supress its use. Why?
Because of the oligopoly that dictates the norms in the electric and gas sectors. They do not want to lose their share of the market and in Spain they are especially powerful. Solar energy is approximately ten times more developed in sun-bereft Germany than it is in sunny Spain. If one wishes to build an energy-production plant of more than 100 kW in Spain, the bureaucracy involved is crippling. Moreover, Spain has introduced a tender system based on auctions, making it very difficult for private and small community concerns to compete with the big companies. Furthermore, thousands of farmers and small enterprises which had been encouraged to invest in small-scale solar energy units by former Spanish governments have been lethally affected by retroactive measures introduced by the socialist PSOE and conservative PP governments in 2012 and following years, thus preventing many of them from being sustainable. That is why the local section of Eurosolar reported this policy to the U.N. High Commission for Human Rights in July 2019. Because of this large foreign companies then go to International tribunals for Investor State Dispute Settlement, which condemn the Spanish state to pay large sums in compensation.
Do you think that popular mobilisation is the most effective weapon to achieve more democratic and energetically sustainable societies?
The great challenge facing the world in the 21st century is to build societies that are at peace with nature and that respect the different cultures we should be treasuring. We must acknowledge that throughout the 20th century, war was waged against nature and against the forms of culture that did not want to adopt a way of life imposed by a productivist, consumerist, and pollution-rife form of industrialism. The public health pandemic must serve as a stimulus to make us deeply rethink our societies. Changes must be built around the need to act preventively rather than reactively. We must promote social involvement and decentralize, rather than centralize, political decision-making and planning.
Is it along these lines that you created the “Viure de l’aire del cel”* (living on the sky’s air) project?
Yes indeed. It is a project that requires people and communities to make a social appropriation of renewable generation technologies. More than six hundred people (individuals and those in representation of associations and some small companies) are now participating in what is the first community wind project in southern Europe. Now it’s time to create the conditions for everyone to take advantage of the local wealth that can be generated by capturing, transforming and using the energy around us, the energy contained in biosphere and lithospheric flows.
Over the years you have strived to make a political ecology option take a more active role in Catalan and Spanish politics. Why has this been so difficult in comparison with other countries such as Germany?
The first attempts to carry this out go back to the early 80s following the example of Die Grünen. But it was not until the 90s that the slump in the traditional communist vote led the old PSUC (historical Catalan communists) – reconverted into IC (Iniciativa per Catalunya) and today controlling CECP (Catalunya en Comú Podem) – to build a coalition with the Catalan Green Party that led to some success at the 1995 elections, when prominent green party members took seats in several major city councils. But in 1999 it became evident that this was little more than a cosmetic exercise. It was then that IC, without even warning its coalition partners, suddenly took on the new name ICV (Iniciativa per Catalunya Verds), giving the false impression of being a fully integrated green party. This was not ethical and shows a recurrent pattern in PSUC tactics aimed at eliminating competition rather than cooperating with allies.
You are now a Member of the Catalan Parliament because Josep Rull, ex-minister of the Catalan government and now a political prisoner, had to resign. How do you feel taking his seat?
The sensation is one of great abnormality. Minister Rull is part of the legitimate government of Catalonia that organized the Independence Referendum in 2017. He and the rest of our government were suspended by way of an irregular application of article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, as has been made clear at the sessions of the Catalan Parliament’s Inquiry Commission on the application of Article 155. He was also elected by the citizens of Catalonia as an MP in December 2017 and the joint authoritarian manoeuvring of the Spanish Government, in cahoots with Spain’s politically-orientated Supreme Court, prevented him from taking office. Being an MP in these circumstances makes me feel that I have a great responsibility on my shoulders and a special stimulus to work towards the implementation of a Catalan Republic where the management of energy-production policies is based on pollution-free sustainability and democratic common sense.
What is Spain’s policy on nuclear energy?
There is an age-old opacity enshrining the Spanish nuclear industry, which is the most poisoned legacy left to us by the Franco regime. The Nuclear Security Council (CNS) has limited itself to reporting favourably on the proposal to extend the lifespan of Almaraz’s two nuclear plants in Extremadura, which started up in 1981 and 1983 respectively. Their lifespan was then said to be 25-30 years. The new license will extend it to more than 45 years with the sole aim of enriching its shareholders at the very real risk of future malfunction and accidents.
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