San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

ICE chief promises compromise on geothermal energy in national parks

By John McPhaul | Special to The Tico Times Staff

Costa Rica Electricity Institute (ICE) Executive President President Teofilo de la Torre said ICE will resubmit a proposal to segregate 1,000 hectares of Rincón de la Vieja National Park, in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, to reduce the area of exploration and to implement an “eco-design” to minimize impact.

The promise aims to accommodate conservationists who have protested the segregation proposal in recent weeks.

ICE and Environment Ministry officials laid out a case for producing geothermal energy in Costa Rica’s national parks at a forum last week.

Environment Minister René Castro showed less flexibility, said Álvaro Ugalde, co-founder of the national park system and leader of the fight to prevent the segregation.

Castro called for rekindling the debate in the legislature over segregation Bill 17,680. Debate in the Assembly has been postponed on several occasions under pressure from environmental groups.

Castro said that global warming is “killing us over a slow fire” and creating water shortages that make it ever more difficult to run the country’s hydroelectric plants. Hydroelectric energy accounts for most of Costa Rica’s total energy production.

“We need to vaccinate ourselves against climate change and assure ourselves an energy that is stable throughout the year. If not, we will have to burn fossil fuels to operate the thermal plants and pay higher electricity bills,” Castro said.

Tapping Costa Rica’s volcanoes for geothermal energy is the logical next step to providing Costa Rica with clean, renewable energy, he added.

Most of Costa Rica’s volcanoes are located within national parks.

Castro didn’t address why it was necessary to segregate the land to achieve the geothermal generation objectives, Ugalde said.

Alejandro Masís, director of the Guanacaste Conservation Area – part of the National System of Conservation Areas – said conservationists are not opposed to geothermal electricity generation in Rincón de la Vieja National Park, but wants it to be done in conjunction with park administration goals.

“We can design in a joint manner and can elaborate a distinct eco-design,” Masís said.

De la Torre agreed with Masís, saying that ICE could reduce the area that it would use for the geothermal project, ICE said in a press release.

Lawmaker José María Villalta, a member of the legislative Energy and Environment Commission, called for a national discussion on the geothermal energy issue.

“This project will only be possible if we achieve a national agreement first on how to harmonize two great themes for Costa Ricans: environmental protection and renewable energy generation, which will benefit the entire society,” Villalta said.

Ugalde said he was satisfied with the ICE event, aside from Minister Castro’s apparent intransigence.

“I think we are pushing them in the right direction,” he said.

The 11,000-hectare Rincón de la Vieja National Park contains the last of the so-called pre-coffee forest habitat in the country, and along with the rest of the Guanacaste Conservation Area, has been declared by the United Nations a “World Heritage Site.”

Several dozen Costa Rican artists also circulated a petition against the segregation plan.

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