Up on the mountains of Santa Ana, overlooking San José to the east, a new wind-farming project aims to snatch clean electricity out of the ether and bring it to some 15,000 Central Valley homes.
The Valle Central Wind Project, a joint effort between the Costa Rican National Power and Light Company (CNFL) – a subsidiary of Costa Rica’s state-owned electricity monopoly – and German clean-energy group Juwi, will crank out 40 gigawatt-hours of energy on average each year, once the 44-meter-diameter wind-churning blades start cutting air sometime in 2013, said Bernardo Méndez, a Juwi representative for Latin America and the Caribbean. Some information provided by CNFL estimates a starting date of August 2012.
Construction of the project is ongoing in the mountains of Santa Ana’s Salitral district, southwest of the nation’s capital.
“The object is to change, little by little, the use of fossil fuels here. [The push] for renewable energy has been growing in recent years in Costa Rica,” Méndez said.
The $52 million project is funded by a 50-percent equity investment by CNFL and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI), with the remainder via a 15-year fixed-rate loan from CABEI. The light and power company will lease the 17-windmill facility from CABEI for the 15-year length of the loan, and at the end of that time will become sole owner of the project.
The wind farm fits with Costa Rica’s 2011-2014 National Development Plan, which aims to generate 95 percent of the country’s energy from renewable resources by 2014.
“This project compliments the energy based in water, in hydroelectric energy projects,” Méndez said. “The windy season, as we call it, corresponds precisely with dry season. Wind energy is very valuable and very well-situated to complement the amount of energy generated by hydroelectric projects.”
The fact that Juwi, a German firm, is developing the project also highlights ongoing cooperation between Costa Rica and its largest trading partner in the European Union. Both countries have committed to the development of “green” economies and renewable energy.
Dirk Niebel, German minister for economic cooperation and development, toured the Valle Central Wind Project during a state visit to Costa Rica in early January, saying in a statement released by the German Embassy in San José that his trip “reflects the very close cooperation between Costa Rica and Germany. Costa Rica has a leading role to play [regarding] environmental and climate policies. This is reflected in particular in its goal to become the first country in the world to be carbon neutral by the year 2021.”
Niebel said that to mobilize funds needed to meet the goal, Costa Rica would need to carry out an extensive reform of its government revenue policy.
“Consequently, the priority areas of our cooperation are renewable energies as well as climate and environmental protection and sustainable economic development,” the statement said.
Juwi has ample experience constructing wind farms, with more than 485 installations under its belt worldwide, including a 49.5-megawatt wind plant in Guayabo, in the northwestern province of Guanacaste. That project features 55 of the same German-made windmills that will populate the mountains of Santa Ana, and they generate enough energy to power 70,000 homes, according to data provided by Juwi. The Guanacaste installation began churning in 2009.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America reported last year that electricity produced from wind energy in Central America jumped 120 percent from 2009 to 2010 (TT, Sept. 2, 2011).
In Costa Rica, hydroelectric plants supply the bulk – about 60 percent in 2010 – of energy. Plenty of mountains, abundant rain and a myriad of river systems make hydropower ideal for the country. Wind generates much less power for the country overall, but also sidesteps the messy conflicts that have embroiled projects like the Diquís Dam near the Southern Zone town of Buenos Aires, which would require the flooding of 900 hectares of territory belonging to the indigenous Térraba community.
In October 2011, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court gave the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) six months to square things with the Térraba, and declared a 2008 court ruling approving the project to be unconstitutional.
“Many times it is very difficult to convince communities to cede or allow their lands to be used in part of a hydroelectric project or to be at the border of reservoirs,” Méndez said. “It’s easier to convince people to cede their lands, as in the case of the Valle Central Wind Project, when they are areas very inhospitable for living, where there isn’t a lot of agricultural cultivation and are mostly areas used for grazing cattle.”
Electricity generated at the Valle Central Wind Project will be transmitted to ICE’s Escazú substation to be funneled into the wide electrical grid.