But as low-quality, poorly designed solar plants sprang up on Spain’s plateaus, Spanish officials came to realize that they would have to subsidize many of them indefinitely, and that the industry they had created might never produce efficient green energy on its own.
In September the government abruptly changed course, cutting payments and capping solar construction. Puertollano’s brief boom turned bust. Factories and stores shut, thousands of workers lost jobs, foreign companies and banks abandoned contracts that had already been negotiated.
“We lost the opportunity to be at the vanguard of renewables — we were not only generating electricity, but also a strong economy,” said Joaquín Carlos Hermoso Murillo, Puertollano’s mayor since 2004. “Why are they limiting solar power, when the sun is unlimited?”
Puertollano’s wrenching fall points to the delicate policy calculations needed to stimulate nascent solar industries and create green jobs, and might serve as a cautionary tale for the United States, where a similar exercise is now under way.
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