Venezuela aims for a quick start for wind

VENEZUELA: Venezuela is pursuing a radical start to its national wind power programme, with plans to install 1.7GW in just five years, a senior government official has revealed.

Venezuela president Hugo Chavez announced a $1billion fund to tackle the country's electricity supply problems

Alberto Urdaneta, director of alternative energy at the electricity ministry, says that the country is aiming for 1.7GW by 2015, with focus on the northwestern Zulia state, where 750MW could be installed over five years.

The country has no commercial wind farms. It does, however, have two data collection towers in Zulia under a $2 million venture with the Portuguese government to map Venezuela's wind and solar potential, Urdaneta says. The bulk of new investment will be in Zulia's Guajira peninsula, a thinly populated agricultural area near Colombia.

Exceptional resource

There is already enough data to start designing a wind farm of up to 500MW, according to Urdaneta. "In the Guajira there is an exceptional resource. Average wind speeds are ten metres a second and it is very stable in velocity and direction," he says. His department is working on designs for the first 150MW stage of a wind farm in Guajira.

Urdaneta says the area is especially appropriate for wind development because of its low population density, and that farming does not compete with wind power production. There are also links via 400kW and 180kW transmission lines to Maracaibo, the state capital and Venezuela's second-largest city, whose main economy is the oil produced in and around Lake Maracaibo.

The ministry's efforts are separate from a series of medium-sized projects led by state-run energy giant Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), he adds, saying that in the Paraguana peninsula in the state of Falcon, near Zulia, PDVSA is already lifting towers into place on the site.

A separate Venezuelan source, speaking off the record, says that 24 of the 76 tower foundations have been completed.

PDVSA is also pursuing 72MW of wind power projects on three sites spread across the country, first detailed in a 2008 memorandum of understanding with Portuguese company Galp.

"There had been a plan for pilot projects: 24MW in La Guajira, 24MW on Margarita Island, 24MW in Chacopata on the Araya Peninsula," Urdaneta says. All three sites are on the Caribbean in the states of Zulia, Nueva Espara and Sucre.

Last year's financial crisis means this three-part project might now be moving faster, according to Urdaneta. "We would have had to wait three years for the equipment," he says. "Now there is cheap unsold stock that we can pay for immediately. There is an opportunity." The ministry is working with PDVSA seeking financing for the project.

Venezuela has a number a micro wind power projects, designed to help households in rural areas away from the electricity grid.

Energy security

The wind expansion is part of a national energy plan announced at the end of 2009. In January, President Hugo Chavez announced a $1 billion fund intended to tackle the nation's electricity problems.

At the end of last year, some 70% of the country's electricity came from a single source, the Guri hydroelectric dam. When the dam experienced a shortage of water due to an exceptional dry period, the nation suffered a series of power outages. The National Electricity Fund has to tackle a portfolio of 109 projects, which include energy saving, solar power, maintenance and distribution.