Brazil: Bahia's push for wind draws in big players

BRAZIL: US giant GE is the latest international wind-power equipment manufacturer to commit to building a facility in Brazil's north-eastern state of Bahia.

In early October, the company announced a BRL 45 million ($25.6 million) plan to build a turbine-assembly plant in the state to supply growing contracts in the country. Spain's Gamesa and France's Alstom have already identified Bahia as a good location for its closeness to other wind-power producing states and the state's own 30GW potential in its highlands.

GE is still studying the exact location and the full investment ticket, but it plans to start supplying locally made equipment for its wind projects next year.

The state's authorities have been following a strategy to turn the state into a wind-power generation and equipment-production hub, which includes giving priority to the technology in Bahia's energy expansion plans, aiming to create jobs and developing the local economy.

"Most of the potential has been mapped in the state's western region, which is relatively underdeveloped and wind power is a way to boost the economy," said Rafael Valverde, an official of Bahia's government and industry energy chamber. He said another five wind-power equipment companies are in talks with the local government, but declined to give names.

Promising pipeline

Bahia is the biggest and most industrialised state in Brazil's north-eastern region. With around 14 million residents, it has 10GW of installed energy capacity.

Although this does not yet include any wind farms, there are 11 projects under construction with a combined capacity of 243MW and another 19 projects have been authorised by Brazil's electricity regulator Aneel with a total capacity of 659MW, many of which are also aiming to sell power in the unregulated market.

Wind projects already account for about 36% of total new installed capacity authorised for the state. Diesel and fuel oil power projects account for 63%. The aim is for wind power to reach close to 30% of the state's installed capacity in the next 20 years, said Valverde. Projects already under local government scrutiny could add another 700MW, he said.

"The state government is making all the efforts to speed and improve things for the wind-power sector," he said. It has set up a task force to deal with real estate, licensing, logistics and transmission issues.

Bahia state specialists have proposed a new transmission line running around 700 kilometres across the state's western inland region, where most of the potential is located. Studies need to be concluded before the government can auction the line.

Bahia's energy chamber, comprising industry, government and energy sector specialists, is currently working on improving environmental licensing, detailing the wind maps and training the local workforce, said Valverde. The government is in talks with international and national research centres to develop these programmes. The wind maps are based on studies made in 2000 that indicated an initial potential of 14GW.

Nonetheless, the wind industry still has hurdles to overcome. The state is very well located, close to other north-eastern states that are developing wind projects, is the largest state in land area and has the strongest economy in the region, noted Everaldo Feitosa, CEO of consulting firm Eolica Tecnologia and vice-president of the World Wind Energy Association.

"But the state government needs to improve its licensing methods. Because of the large number of projects, the environmental authorities are facing a severe backlog," he warned.

The equipment will need to be adapted to the strong, erratic winds in the high plains 600-800 metres above sea level. "These are complex winds that, if not accounted for, will reduce the lifespan of equipment," said Feitosa.