Juan Urrutia Zulueta (1888–1925)

Juan Urrutia Zulueta was a Basque engineer who became a major figure in hydroelectric power in Spain and contributed to the development of other public utilities, including electricity distribution, gas and public transport.

Urrutia came from the small town of Amurrio, south of Bilbao, where his father was a blacksmith. He studied nearby in Bilbao and Vitoria and then at the School of Mining Engineering in Madrid. In 1896 he began designing hydroelectricity projects in the Basque country for the Compañía Eléctrica de San Sebastián and the Sociedad Eléctrica del Gorbea.

In 1901 he was approached by Eduardo Aznar y Tutor, who owned rights to exploit water in the catchment of the river Ebro, which flows east from the Basque country to Catalunya. The result was the creation of the first large electricity generating company in Spain, Hidroeléctrica Ibérica. The company built stations on other rivers across Spain with the aim of providing electricity for key industrial regions without the need for a national grid. They supplied Madrid from a station in the river basin of the Tajo (Tagus). In 1907-8, Urrutia founded sister companies, Hidroeléctrica Española and a distribution company, Unión Eléctrica Vizcaina. They built their first coal-fired generating station at Burceña, Bilbao. In 1921 he established Sociedad Ibérica de Construcciones Eléctricas (SICE) to develop electrical infrastructure projects. When he died in 1925 his companies owned half the generating capacity in Spain.

Urrutia promoted the electricity sector and renewable power in 'La Energía hidroeléctrica en España' (1917). He was vice-president of other leading companies, Babcock and Wilcox and the Industrial Credit Society, and a director of the Madrid tram and gas companies. He advised on the creation of Compañía Hispano Americanade Electricidad (CHADE), which supplied electricity in South America. His companies now exist as multinationals under the names Iberdrola and SICE.