San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Wind gives region a power boost

WASHINGTON – With oil prices fluctuating wildly and global warming a growing threat, eco-friendly wind turbines – once an unfamiliar sight in Central America – are suddenly popping up in valleys and plains from Panama to Guatemala.

Between 2009 and 2010, the region’s amount of electricity generated by wind power grew 120 percent, according to a new study by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America (CEPAL in Spanish).

During that time frame, the region comprising Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Panama and Belize generated 237.2 gigawatt-hours of wind energy – though the biggest projects are in Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Last June, the Honduran government announced it would invest $2.1 billion over the next six years in renewable energy projects. The 52 projects to be developed between 2010 and 2016 will generate 250 MW, which will be sold to the Empresa Nacional de Energía Electrica (ENE) at an average price of 10 cents per kWH.

Héctor Borjas, vice president of the Honduran Association of Small Energy Producers (Asociación Hondureña de Pequeños Productores de Energía), said 50,000 jobs would be created in more than 30 municipalities.

Along those lines, the Export-Import Bank of the United States is helping a Spanish company, Gamesa, sell 51 wind turbines to Honduras, which will be produced at a factory just outside Philadelphia. Ex-Im, based in Washington, is financing $159 million of the $300 million total cost of the 102-MW wind farm, which involves G87 2-MW wind turbines.

When operational, the wind farm – located 20 kilometers south of Tegucigalpa in the municipalities of Santa Ana and San Buenaventura – will be the largest in Central America, producing about 6 percent of Honduran electricity supply.

“Renewable energy is frequently more costly than fossil fuel, but in this case, wind power for Honduras is a low-cost solution,” said the bank’s president, Fred Hochberg. “We’re about creating U.S. jobs, and it doesn’t matter whether the company is American-owned or Spanish-owned. It’s not that easy for a Central American power company to get an 18-year loan on its own, and by our guaranteeing it, we make that transaction happen.”

 The transaction was among the first exports from Gamesa’s two Pennsylvania factories and marked the first time the company has used Ex-Im Bank financing. It was also Ex-Im’s first renewable energy deal utilizing the bank’s new carbon-policy incentives, including an 18-year repayment term.

In Costa Rica, work has begun on the first wind farm in the country’s Central Valley near Santa Ana, southwest of the capital San José. The project is expected to become operational in August 2012, according to CNFL, a subsidiary of ICE. Marvin Céspedes said it will produce enough electricity to supply about 6,000 homes. He added that Costa Rica already has a few smaller wind power projects in the north, but this is the first project of its size seen in the densely populated central region.

Meanwhile, Blue Power & Energy has signed an $80 million financing agreement with Banco Internacional de Costa Rica (Bicsa) for completion of a wind energy project in Nicaragua. The farm will be able to generate 39.6 MW of clean energy, providing annual savings of $22 million, said Energy Minister Emilio Rapaccioli.

Joaquín Cuadra, director of Blue Power, said that so far, “they have built the foundation for the installation of three wind turbines and eight miles of access roads.”

The farm will require an investment of $115.8 million and will include 22 Vesta wind turbines. Blue Power recently signed sales contracts with power distributor Natural Gas at a cost of $104.50 per MW produced. This will be the third private company to produce wind power in Nicaragua after Amayo I and II.

Energy multinational AEI last May acquired 47.5 percent of Amayo I and II, which produces 63 MW of clean energy. AEI bought the shares from Texas-based Arctas Capital Group. It then bought an additional 47.5 percent interest in Amayo II from Guatemalan firm Centrans Energy Services for an undisclosed amount.

Arctas said the two-phase Amayo project represents an investment of about $150 million. About $71.3 million for the first phase was furnished by the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI). Discussions are underway with CABEI and two or three other lenders for a loan for the second phase. Centrans continues to retain a 47.5 percent share in Amayo I. Local partner Energia Eólica de Nicaragua owns the remaining 5 percent in each project.

Since the Parque Eólico Amayo’s inauguration two years ago, Nicaragua has saved $58 million in petroleum costs, La Prensa newspaper reported July 26. Production at the park – the largest in Central America, with 250 million KWh per year – represents 11.6 percent of national demand. 

Manuel Callejas, director of the Amayo plant, said the energy produced at the wind-power plant is 40 percent cheaper than that produced at standard energy power plants. Each kilowatt produced by Amayo I costs $87, and by Amayo II, $92. That’s much cheaper than standard plants, where electricity costs $210 per kilowatt-hour at the Nicaragua plant and up to $160 at the Che Guevara plant at Albanisa.

But the biggest wind producer of all may end up being Panama, where Energy & Environmental Engineering Corp. plans to invest $720 million in two power projects at Anton Sur and La Colorada. These projects are each expected to add 90 megawatts to Panama’s national grid.

According to the website, permits for the projects are expected to be approved by December 2011. Construction of the facilities should begin in early 2012, taking about 18 months.

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