Sweltering Spain to turn down air conditioning in energy-saving drive

Plans to prepare for uncertain winter run into opposition from regional leader of Madrid

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez made a point of not wearing a tie during a press conference in Madrid. AP
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Spain has brought in limits on air conditioning to save power during the hot summer and suggested that workers simply take their ties off, in plans that are facing resistance from a powerful regional leader in Madrid.

Public buildings will be banned from cooling to less than 27°C or heating to more than 19°C, and shop windows have been told to turn their lights off at 10pm to prepare for an uncertain winter overshadowed by Russian energy cuts.

Museums, railway stations and shopping malls are also subject to the cuts and will have to install automatic locks by September 30 to prevent energy being wasted by doors staying open all day.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez recommended the wearing of open-necked shirts to cope with the sweltering heat and made a point of leading by example at a press conference.

“I'd like you all to note that I am not wearing a tie,” he said.

Spain has been suffering through a heatwave for more than a month, with temperatures often rising above 40ºC. Private households are not facing compulsory cuts, although they have been encouraged to lower blinds and turn off their lights when possible.

Nonetheless, Madrid's regional leader Isabel Diaz Ayuso, a maverick populist with a record of squaring up to the government, said she would not comply with some of the proposed measures.

“Madrid will not switch off,” she said in a series of tweets attacking policies that she said would “generate insecurity and scare away tourism and consumption”.

Spaniards have endured persistent high temperatures but have been told to turn down air conditioning in public buildings. AP

In an echo of her opposition to coronavirus restrictions, she said: “Before closing, banning, shutting down, why not talk to citizens and administrations like adults and ask them to co-operate based on clear criteria?”

Also known as “the Iron Lady of Madrid”, Ms Ayuso won the 2021 regional election by a landslide after she allowed stores, restaurants and nightclubs to remain open during the pandemic to protect business.

Economy Minister Nadia Calvino hit back at her opposition to energy savings by telling a Spanish radio programme: “We are used to this type of response from Ms Ayuso. She always shows a lack of solidarity and selfishness.”

Spain's energy-saving plan was approved after the European Union agreed to cut its gas consumption by 15 per cent from August to March as concerns rise over the future of supplies from Russia.

Russian exporter Gazprom has already cut off supplies to several EU countries and drastically reduced deliveries to Germany, claiming technical issues — something Berlin views as an excuse.

Madrid's regional leader Isabel Diaz Ayuso opposed the energy-saving plans for her region. AFP

The Spanish measures, published in an official gazette on Tuesday, must be enacted within seven days, after which those in breach will face fines of between €100 and €30,000 ($102 to $30,700).

There has been some grumbling in Spain over having to show solidarity for the sake of Russia-reliant nations such as Germany, compounded by a perceived lack of sympathy from Berlin when the shoe was on the other foot during the 2010s euro crisis.

Ministers said Spain was the gateway for more than 30 per cent of liquid gas imports to Europe, which come from North Africa, and was not reliant on pipeline imports from Russia.

“Unlike other countries, we Spaniards have not lived beyond our possibilities from the energy point of view,” said Teresa Ribera, minister for ecological transition, who opposed a more stringent set of cuts initially proposed by the EU.

Spain signed up to a modified version under which member states can block mandatory cuts and countries can request an opt-out if they have limited interconnections to their neighbours — which is true for Spain.

The country has sought funding from its European neighbours to expand those interconnections and supply more gas to the continental market.

Updated: August 03, 2022, 3:12 PM