Mexico - Top two slot confirmed as capacity more than doubles

MEXICO: Mexico's wind market, with some of the strongest winds in the world, has fast ramped up to adding around 600-700MW of new annual capacity.

Big share: The 306MW La Ventosa project was among those completed last year (photo:Iberdrola)
Big share: The 306MW La Ventosa project was among those completed last year (photo:Iberdrola)

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This rate is predicted to last until 2015 and probably beyond, according to national wind association Amdee and the Global Wind Energy Council.

mexico capacity pieThe sector connected 773MW to the grid last year, bringing the installed total to 1.29GW - an almost 250% leap on the 519MW reached by the end of 2011. At the close of 2012, more than 700MW were under construction, according to Amdee president Leopoldo Rodriguez. This includes French utility EDF's 164MW Bii Stinu project in Oaxaca. "We are on track for around 2GW by the end of 2013 and close to 3GW by 2015," Rodriguez adds.

"We're talking about the largest growth in wind power projects anywhere in the world," outgoing Mexican president Felipe Calderon said on inaugurating Spanish developer Acciona's 306MW La Ventosa project in Oaxaca, in March 2012. That landmark project brings Acciona's total in Mexico to over 550MW.

Fellow Spanish group Renovalia connected the first 90MW phase of its 228MW Piedra Larga project, near La Ventosa in 2012. Close by, state utility and grid operator CFE and Spanish construction group ACS/EYRA connected their joint 101MW Oaxaca I development. In fact, Spanish developers and turbine makers are behind over 75% of Mexico's cumulative total.

More to come

Meanwhile, around 700MW of grid capacity allocated by CFE between 2009 and 2014 remains to be built. Nearly all of this is in Oaxaca, Mexico's windiest state, where over 98% of its online capacity operates. As part of an additional competition for 300MW, CFE allocated grid permits to Enel in December 2012 for the 101MW La Mata wind development in Ixtepec, west Oaxaca. Over the next five years CFE plans public calls for a further 1.5GW, although developers may also apply for connection separately.

Despite a change in leadership last year, political support for renewable energy looks set to continue. On taking office in December, president Enrique Pena Nieto stressed the government's commitment to the national climate-change law, which came into force in October. In the face of electricity demand predicted to continue its recent growth of around 5% a year for the next ten years, and an 80% dependency on fossil fuels, the climate-change law aims to increase renewable generation from 25% at the end of 2012 to 35% by 2024.

But the real reason behind Mexico's sudden growth spurt is improved turbine technology leading to increased capacity factors, meaning the wind industry can operate largely without price support mechanism.

While earlier wind development did receive special rates for generation through a limited number of contracts with CFE, most of Mexico's recent wind capacity has competed with conventional generators for private power purchase agreements (PPAs) with large industrial power users.

At least 12GW of cumulative wind capacity is viable nationwide to 2020, with little or even no price support mechanism, according to a study by consultants PriceWaterhouseCoopers for Amdee. The figure represents nearly a fifth of the country's entire electricity capacity (62GW).

PPA prices, typically at $68-70/MWh, would be unviably low for many wind markets. This is not the case in windy Mexico, where most operational wind farms in Oaxaca have capacity factors - the proportion of time the turbines operate at full capacity - of 35-40%, compared with around 25% typical in Europe. This can make PPAs viable without price support.

Development beyond Oaxaca

Companies are already developing across states such as Tamaulipas, Baja California, Chihuahua, Jalisco, Nuevo Leon, Sonora and Veracruz, where winds are "also strong but less gusty", says Rodriguez. He expects the trend to develop outside Oaxaca to intensify this year.

For instance, the Mexican state of Baja California has announced it is finalising a call to tender to build the 50MW Rumorosa II wind project this year. Across the border in the US, the county authorities of San Diego, California, have approved building of a 113-kilometre power line to connect the 156MW Sierra de Juarez wind project in Baja, California.

Distributed development outside Oaxaca will reduce grid congestion, Rodriguez says. Another advantage lies in avoiding the mounting militant land right conflicts between wind companies and indigenous communities in Oaxaca. Blockades and protests have hampered work at nearly all wind plants in the La Ventosa area. Most notable is Japanese industrial giant Mitsubishi's 396MW Marenas project in San Dionisio. Building work scheduled to begin last spring has been postponed due to local communities blocking roads.

While projects might be viable without price support, Amdee is calling for it - as part of the energy reform to be hammered out under the climate law - in order to compete better for PPAs with conventional power, especially important for smaller players.

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