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Conference Touches On Regional Energy Issues

“The production of electric energy in the world must undergo a profound transformation if it wants to be profitable in the future,” said Costa Rican President Oscar Arias at the conclusion of the Central American Electric Energy Conference held Wednesday at the Real Intercontinental Hotel in Escazú, west of San José.

The conference – organized by the Costa Rica-based Academia de Centroamérica and the U.S.-based Institute of the Americas, in San Diego, California – drew government, public sector and private sector representatives from Central America,Mexico and various South American countries to discuss energy commerce, regulations, interconnection and other topics.

“All countries want to depend a little less on (fossil) fuels. This is easy to say, difficult to make happen,” said Eduardo Lizano, president of the Academia de Centroamérica, touching on a major point of the conference: alternative sources of energy.

Jeffrey Davidow, director of the Institute of the Americas, said many renewable sources of electricity – such as wind, solar, geothermic and biomass power – are becoming available, and their use is growing in Costa Rica, where more than 80% of electrical production comes from hydroelectric plants.

Arias, in his closing speech, referenced an article in the magazine The Economist that points out the business of renewable energy “is becoming the next boom in investment.”

Participants in the conference were not there to “draw conclusions or make recommendations,” said Lizano, but rather discuss common energy issues.

Representatives also discussed plans for Central America’s regional electric grid under construction. The grid would stretch from Guatemala to Panama, allowing countries to transfer large amounts of electricity from nation to nation. Currently, Costa Rica imports and exports electricity with its neighbors, but only in small amounts because it is limited by small-capacity power lines, Lizano said.

The regional grid, financed by the Inter-American Development Bank and the Spanish government, would also alleviate problems with transferring between countries that are not neighbors, Lizano continued, using Nicaragua as an example. Nicaragua, which is in the midst of an electricity crisis that has produced daily rolling blackouts in the capital city of Managua and other areas, was unable to import needed electricity from Panama because Costa Rica’s infrastructure could not handle the transfer, Lizano said.

Davidow said that Mexico and Colombia could eventually be connected to the grid as well. Panama is already in the process of integrating with Colombia, as is Guatemala with Mexico, he said. The latter is expected to be on-line by 2008. Lizano said it is impossible to estimate when the Central American electricity grid might be finished.



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