Insight report: Latin American wind sector hit by Covid-19 and debt

Some countries badly hit by virus and debt, but region's longer-term prospects look strong

Colombia currently only has a single wind farm (right) but held a tender for 1GW in 2019 (pic: Cueva Lovelle/flickr)
Colombia currently only has a single wind farm (right) but held a tender for 1GW in 2019 (pic: Cueva Lovelle/flickr)

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Despite suffering one of the world´s worst outbreaks of Covid-19 and the likely absence of any renewable energy auctions this year, wind capacity has continued to expand rapidly in Brazil. Thanks to the implementation of a new financing model by state development bank BNDES last year, capacity is expected to grow by more than 50% to 24.2GW by 2024, according to national wind energy association ABEE.

In August, Norwegian energy firm Equinor applied to Brazilian environment regulator IBAMA to carry out an environmental impact assessment to develop an offshore wind project. The project, located 20km off the coast of the Rio de Janeiro and Espiritu Santo states, could have up to 4GW of capacity.

Argentina has overtaken Chile to become South America’s second largest wind energy producer behind Brazil, with just over 2GW of installed capacity. But the country’s swirling debt crisis, which culminated in a deal to restructure $65 billion worth of government debt in August, has slowed investment.

Following industry lobbying, the government agreed in August to give developers that won contracts in last year’s renewable energy tender an additional five months — until 30 November — to raise the necessary funding to sign final power purchase agreements.

Development of wind energy in Mexico has been blocked by efforts by the federal government to strengthen state control over the energy industry. After growing by 26% to almost 5.7GW in 2019, wind capacity is expected to rise by only around 100MW this year as dozens of projects were halted by a grid operator Cenace to suspend testing on new wind and solar plants. However, in August, developers won a key legal victory over the government when Mexico’s supreme court overturned the decision.

In Chile, wind development has accelerated this year, with capacity under construction rising fourfold over last year to more than 2GW in August, doubling existing wind capacity. The boom is set to continue as major contracts awarded by power distributors come into force over the next four years.

In September, Mainstream Renewable Power announced that it will build five wind and solar farms totalling 630MW, to come online between 2021 and 2022, with turbines supplied by Vestas, Nordex-Acciona and Siemens Gamesa Renewabe Energy (SGRE).

With projects already under construction, this means Mainstream alone is due to commission 951MW of wind capacity online in Chile by the end of 2022.

Colombia has become the latest nation in South America to bet on its significant wind potential. Following the awarding of contracts for 1GW of wind energy in the country’s first ever renewable energy auction last year, preparation for several wind farms are now underway, concentrated in the north-east Guajira region.

Italy’s Enel is planning to build three wind farms totalling 508MW in the region over the coming years.

In August, state oil firm Ecopetrol issued green bonds worth COP 300 billion ($81 million), part of which will be used to strengthen transmission capacity between Guajira and the rest of the country.

However, Colombia remains a long way behind its neighbours. The country’s only wind farm, commissioned in 2004, resumed operations in July after being forced to close following a ruling by the energy regulator requiring it to adopt newer technologies. Power firm Empresas Publicas de Medellin (ESP) appealed the decision and the 19.5MW Jeripachi wind farm will now be able to continue operating until the end of its term in 2023.

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