Sat, Dec 27, 2008 - Page 7 News List

Nicaragua turns to wind power, builds 19 new windmills


Energy-starved Nicaragua is turning to wind as it tries to reduce its dependence on oil-based power.

Next month, the country will begin operating 19 windmills that have the potential to generate 40 megawatts of energy.

Nicaraguan Energy Minister Emilio Rappaccioli said the US$90 million project will be operating at full capacity by the end of next month and contribute 6 percent of the country’s total energy needs.

Nicaragua successfully ended rolling blackouts that left the country without power for hours on many days, but the government struggled to pay higher energy costs as oil prices peaked at more than US$147 a barrel earlier this year.

Rappaccioli said the new project would save about US$9 million a year in fuel costs, at current prices. The lead developer on the operation is Arctas Capital Group LP of Houston, Texas, which said it was in advanced stages of development for another 40-megawatt installation.

Wind is part of Nicaragua’s efforts to reduce its dependence on oil-based energy to just 3 percent by 2013. The country has also turned to geothermal power from volcanoes, hydroelectric power generated by rivers and sugarcane based ethanol. Those sources provide 34 percent of Nicaragua’s energy.

Ernesto Martinez, executive president of the Nicaraguan Energy Company, said recently that Russia would finance and build two geothermal plants in Nicaragua with the capacity to produce 250 megawatts. And on Tuesday, Rappaccioli said Iran, Brazil and Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim have also expressed interest in investing in the country’s renewable energy efforts.

Nearly 80 percent of the oil Nicaragua consumes is provided at a discount by Venezuela, whose president, Hugo Chavez, is a close ally of Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega.

Sustainable development

• 19 windmills coming online next month will provide 40 megawatts of energy.

• The windmills will provide 6 percent of the country’s energy needs and save US$9 million a year.

• Russia plans to build two geothermal plants.

• Venezuela provides 80 percent of the country’s oil.

• The country plans to decrease its dependence on oil energy to 3 percent by 2013.

The 126m high windmills, installed by Suzlon Energy Ltd of Pune, India, were set up on the edge of Lake Nicaragua. They sit in the shadow of the twin volcanoes Concepcion and Maderas on the lake’s Ometepe Island, and have become a tourist attraction of sorts.

“They remind me of Don Quijote,” said Danilo Gutierrez, a professor who drove from the capital of Managua with his family to see them.

The project’s Canadian manager, Sean Porter, said officials were considering adding 19 more windmills.

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