Land right protests hold up construction in Oaxaca

MEXICO: Violent anti-wind power protests in Mexico continue to hold up hundreds of megawatts, mainly in the south-western state of Oaxaca. However, the 90MW Piedra Larga project pushed through and was connected at the end of October.

Throughout 2012, Mexico has completed or started building around 900MW of wind capacity - all but 70MW in Oaxaca - according to Leopoldo Rodriguez, president of Mexican wind energy association AMDEE. That brings cumulative capacity to around 1.4GW. He expects to reach 3GW in 2015.

The large fly in the ointment remains the issue of land rights clashes, which are now affecting existing wind farms where landowners feel duped by early land deals. In late October, Beatriz Olivera, head of charity Greenpeace's energy campaign in Mexico, warned: "Oaxaca wind development policy is unsustainable as it has violated elemental indigenous peoples' rights."

Days later, following Olivera's statement, Japanese industrial giant Mitsubishi bowed to protestors by removing construction vehicles from its 396MW Marenas site according to Rodrigo Flores, spokesman for Oaxaca's Indigenous Peoples' Assembly. Mitsubishi declined to comment.

Land seized

The 396MW Marenas project in south-west Oaxaca has been on hold since January, when local indigenous communities seized control of the town hall. They are blockading construction work and refusing to move until the 2004 private contract for the project is renegotiated with the land assembly, in line with a 1989 United Nations convention protecting indigenous rights.

The Piedra Larga development, which is already being extended by 137MW, is subject to similar protests, including a fatal shooting in 2011. Protesters complained about death threats, leading human rights charity Amnesty International to draw international media attention to the issue.

Rodriguez said that AMDEE "must do much more" to demonstrate how wind developers have acted fairly and legally, bringing wealth to Oaxaca.

But he also warned how some areas of Oaxaca might lose out if protests continue. A recent wind measurement study, verified by consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers, demonstrated how improved turbine rotor spans mean sites in the northern and central states of Mexico, with lower but more constant winds, can now match annual production from Oaxaca sites, which have some of the world's strongest winds.

Many of those northern and central states - including Chiapas, Tamaulipas, Baja California, Jalisco, Nuevo Leon, Chihuahua and Veracruz - have fewer land issues and have long been lining up projects and are ready "to change the game", said Rodriguez.

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