San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Summit draws top renewable energy experts

Regional energy conferences and announcements of new renewable-energy projects are occurring almost weekly throughout Central America.

On Wednesday, the largest international renewable energy conference of the year kicked off in Costa Rica at the Hotel Real Intercontinental in Escazú, west of San José. Hosted by the Globe Foundation, a Vancouver, Canada-based nonprofit organization that coordinates worldwide green energy and sustainability conferences, the three-day summit featured speeches from some of Latin America’s most renowned energy experts. The goal of the summit was to incite international cooperation, trade renewable energy strategies and promote sustainability methods to reduce the region’s reliance on oil-based power. 

“I think over the course of these next few days, we must ask ourselves why it is that we are participating and recommending new strategies for energy,” said Costa Rica’s Environment Minister Teófilo de la Torre,  at the opening of the conference. “I think that the answer will be that we care that the future of the world will be formed in a way that is more sustainable than what we have created thus far. It is the future of our children, our grandchildren, our descendants and, in the end, our legacy.”

De la Torre said that reducing carbon emissions in Costa Rica and Central America hinges on six primary factors: moving from fossil-fuel powered automobiles to electric cars, producing electricity entirely by renewable resources, maximizing forest protection, improving the reuse of agricultural waste, using sustainable products in construction and being more efficient and conscientious with electricity use.  

“This isn’t only an environmental task, but a societal one,” de la Torre said. “Public sector institutions have a relevant role to establish and assure that the members of the government follow the objective they have set out to accomplish.”

Globe Costa 2011 follows a series of similar renewable energy and investment summits that have taken place in Latin America in the past few months.

In early May, Honduras hosted “Hon‑ duras is Open for Business,” an investment conference with more than 300 foreign investors and company heads attending. During the conference, President Porifirio Lobo highlighted the country’s aspirations to attract clean energy investment and informed attendees that Honduras currently has 21 energy projects under way, including several large hydroelectric and wind projects.

Later in the month, the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI), a multilateral development bank based in Honduras, hosted a three-day “Clean Energy Summit” in Guatemala City. According to CABEI President Nick Rischbieth, Central America currently requires a capacity of 6,500 megawatts of electricity. According to projections by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), by 2015 the isthmus will require an additional 7,000 megawatts. Rischbieth said that an estimated investment of $13 billion would be needed to produce that amount.

In order to produce such a voluminous amount of capital for electricity, one of the biggest regional initiatives is the decision by Central American government officials, including Costa Ricans, to make renewable projects easier to develop in the region. Several regional governments, including Panama, Honduras and Guatemala, have established legislation to reduce tariffs, waive income taxes and provide further financial incentives to entice national and international investors to break ground on new renewable projects.

“Incumbent state-owned utilities continue to play an important role in the region, though private investors are playing an increasingly significant role, with opening of new investment opportunities across the entire region,” Maurizio Bezzeccheri, head of Latin America for Enel Green Power, the region’s largest private energy company, wrote in an email to The Tico Times. “We believe that this trend is going to accelerate in 2011 following the regional integration of the energy markets. … In Central America for the period 2010-2020, we estimate an annual growth in terms of installed capacity equal to 5 percent.”

The regional push to create renewable energies coincides with an all-time high in foreign oil prices. Though gasoline prices fell this week for the fifth week in a row, according to the Energy Information Administration, fuel prices remain at their highest levels since 2008, which was an international record year for high fuel prices.

To combat the reliance on foreign imported oil, which the International Energy Agency predicts to hover at $100 per barrel throughout the year, regional governments will continue to strive to develop new hydroelectric, wind and geothermal projects.  

“One of the biggest challenges that our country and the world are facing right now is the energy agenda. The challenges that we are up against have two parts,” Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla said in her State of the Nation address on May 4.

“One part is to assure that the electric supply is sufficient and adequate. That means we will have to generate in the next 10 years the same amount of energy that we created during the last 60 years,” Chinchilla said. “The other part is to make the transition towards renewable energy sources. The latter one is more pressing considering the unstoppable rise of fuel prices, which could result in the worst energy crisis in human history.”

Regional energy groups are optimistic that the continued promotion of Central America as an energy investment destination, such as with the Globe conference, will produce a “greener” region during the upcoming decade.

“I think the future of renewable energies in our region is very promising given the great potential in various energy sources such as hydro, geothermal and wind,” said Rhona Díaz, an engineer in renewable energies at the Center of Investigation and Electric Innovation in Panama. “The necessary resources to accomplish these goals are available. Regional goals of developing renewable energy sources can be achieved if the public sector creates appropriate guidelines and allows for private operators an easier and better defined method of entering the market.”

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