Costa Rica Tilting More Toward Windmills
BAGACES, Guanacaste – Twenty-eight new windmills rise along the otherwise barren skyline of a wind-swept ridge in the corridor that runs between the Miravalles and Rincón de la Vieja Volcanoes in this northwestern province.
The Wind Power Project of Guanacaste (PEG) aims to double the country’s wind power production with a total of 55 new windmills operable by early 2010 and capable of producing about 50 megawatts of power.
They would account for 3 percent of the total renewable electricity produced in Costa Rica, which is striving toward a goal of producing all of its electricity from clean energy.
Over the last five years, an average of 95 percent of Costa Rica’s electricity has come from domestic renewable sources – the highest percentage of any Latin American country – mostly from hydropower.
“The goal of the National Electricity Development Plan (PDEN) is to generate 100 percent of our electricity from renewable sources,” says Gilberto De La Cruz, the general director of the Center of National Electricity Planning, an office of the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE).
Costa Rica draws almost three-quarters of its renewable electricity from hydro sources, which explains past planned power outages during the country’s driest months.
According to PEG President Jorge Dengo, 28 of the windmills will be operable by this January to help alleviate the lack of energy problems during the dry season, when hydropower trails off.
“January is the windiest month up here, and it’s the beginning of our summer, when the need for electricity is highest,” says Roberto Vargas, the project’s electrical works supervisor.
PEG is also building a new 230-kilovolt substation, which will link its electricity production with the national circuit and allow ICE clients nationwide to benefit from the site’s power.
“Costa Rica is taking advantage of its natural resources,” says Vargas. In this tropical, volcanic country, natural resources include, along with water and wind, geothermal and biomass sources, but not oil – a circumstantial deficiency that has fueled renewable energy use here since the late 19th century.
“Our electricity development is based on the vision of our pioneers, who developed electricity using hydropower. The founders of ICE established this in their law through a mandate to exploit the existing energy sources of the country,” says De La Cruz.
Experts have been measuring wind in the elevated valley near Guayabo in the canton of Bagaces since the late 1990s. In 2005, ICE opened bidding for the project, expected to cost about $110 million.
Juwi, a German renewable energy company that has developed wind power projects across the world, won the bid. Juwi, along with Costa Rica-based Enerwinds, whose parent company is Econergy International, will build and operate PEG for 20 years, after which time the project will be turned over to ICE.
From his office amid the windmills atop the Cerro Mogote, Vargas points across the valley to the billowing steam clouds emerging from a point on the base of the Miravalles Volcano. “That is the Miravalles geothermal plant,” he says. “And that,” he says, sweeping his arm around to point out a distant white tower, “is the hydroelectric plant in Arenal. This is a very energy-productive valley.”
Everyone Knows It’s Windy
The Wind Power Project of Guanacaste (PEG) will be the fifth wind power installation in Costa Rica.
The other four are in Tilarán, about 40 kilometers to the east, near LakeArenal.
Once fully operational, PEG’s 55 windmills are expected to produce about 245 gigawatt-hours of power per year. Last year, Costa Rica consumed a little more than 9,000 gigawatt-hours.