Spain’s Just Transition Strategy

Last updated: 3 August 2023

Spain’s Strategic Framework for Energy and Climate, released in 2019, was built on three pillars, one of which is the Just Transition Strategy. Spain views the energy transition as an engine for quality job creation, especially given that the country’s unemployment rate hovers around 15%, with the highest share of temporary workers in the European Union. The Spanish government estimates that between 253 000 and 348 000 jobs will be created in the next decade as part of the energy transition, mainly in manufacturing and construction, with an overall reduction in the unemployment rate of between 1.1% and 1.6%. It also anticipates that the energy transition can bring about the economic revitalisation of sparsely populated areas based on the creation of green jobs.

However, in order to achieve these results, the government recognises the need to support the transition of workers in coal-dependent regions to new opportunities. The Just Transition Strategy, therefore, distinguishes green vocational training as an important element, including retraining of workers in vulnerable sectors or those undergoing restructuring. Already, between 2018 and 2020, Spain shut down 5.4 GW of installed coal capacity, with an additional 3 GW slated for closure in 2022 (relative to 10 GW of capacity from 15 coal plants in 2018). As such, the strategy identifies territories with maximum short-term vulnerabilities and proposes an Urgent Action Plan for Coal Regions and Power Plants to address them.

For coal power plants, the job losses from plant closures are not necessarily immediate as dismantling and decommissioning activities can result in job retention and even job creation. Nonetheless, these jobs are temporary and may require specialised skills that the existing labour force does not have. However, in Spain, the companies that close coal-fired power units are often the same as those that open new power plants, increasing opportunities to relocate staff.

A key tool under the strategy for supporting coal phase-outs are regional Just Transition Agreements for Coal Power Plants between the government, workers, companies that own coal power plants and workers (represented by trade unions). The agreement notes that the closure of coal-fired plants could result in both direct and indirect jobs in repair and maintenance services, as well as jobs in coal transportation and other associated services. In April 2020, Endesa, Iberdrola and Naturgy, operators of the plants in the process of being closed down, signed a Just Transition Agreement to protect 2 300 workers at 12 plants (7.8 GW). In March 2021, EDP joined the agreement, bringing the total to 3 000 workers at 15 plants (10 GW).

The agreement commits the national government (Ministry for Ecological Transition and Ministry of Labour and Social Economy) to collaborate with the Spanish National Employment Service to offer comprehensive support to workers in impacted areas by providing them with vocational training and employment services. Such support will be included in each Just Transition Agreement. This includes implementing a special register under the Just Transition Institute for affected workers to track requalification and job support, in coordination with State and/or Autonomous Communities. The plan includes vocational training and employability support for workers in affected areas, by means of an agreement between the State Public Employment Service and the Just Transition Institute, funded by the latter. It also calls for a study on the profiles of jobs, labour skills and capabilities that will be needed to ensure career development and the integration of job seekers, including analysis of professions at risk of declining demand in the short term, skills needed for future professions and measures needed to bridge the gap.

For companies that own coal plants, the agreement calls for maintaining employment through relocation plans for direct workers and ancillary companies’ workers, giving them priority to new, immediate jobs in restoration and decommissioning activities. As part of this, the companies commit to upskilling and reskilling programmes for workers to support them in these efforts. Priority in decommissioning and restoration tenders will be given to companies that employ ancillary company workers in the local area. Coal plant owners also commit to facilitate compliance and monitoring of their commitments under the agreement.

Meanwhile, unions have a responsibility to monitor compliance under the arrangement as part of the Committee for Monitoring the Agreement, which includes representatives from the government, unions and companies. The committee meets to evaluate implementation progress every six months.

As an example of the Just Transition Agreements working in practice, Endesa in January 2022 announced training courses that will begin in February 2023 as part of the company’s Futur-e plan, in an effort to support local jobs as part of the process of dismantling its coal plant in Carboneras and the installation of renewables facilities. The training programme is part of a cooperation agreement signed by Endesa, the Andalusian Employment Service and Carboneras town council. Endesa has devoted over EUR 150 000 for the training courses in Carboneras that will benefit 500 people. Priority is given to those registered as job seekers under the Just Transition Employment Exchange in Carboneras, followed by jobseekers registered in the same registry of the province of Almeria. The company is planning to build over 1 200 MW of renewable generation in Almeria, which could offer job opportunities for workers from the Carboneras plant.

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