Spanish utility bid beats Americans -- First Nicaragua wind plant

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Spain's Bilbao-based power giant Iberdrola is preparing to add to its $3.5 billion Latin American power portfolio when it starts construction in July of a $25 million, 22 MW wind power project at Rivas, 129 kilometres south of Nicaragua's capital city Managua on the western side of Lake Nicaragua. Iberdrola owns 80% of the Enisa consortium which is developing the wind plant, with local investors accounting for the remaining 20%.

Enisa narrowly edged Enron Wind out of the bidding to supply 20 MW to state owned power company Enel for 15 years, when it offered wind power for $0.05096/kWh compared to Enron's $0.051/kWh offer, an Enron source says. The bidding took place in October 1999. The exact construction start date depends on the final generation contract with Enel, says local Iberdrola representative Fernando Aguerri.

Enisa could supply Enel with up to 22 MW as the contract allows for 10% variation either side of the stipulated 20 MW. This would be a first phase development, Aguerri explains, as the site potential is 40 MW. First phase construction would take 14 months, which would indicate commercial operations starting September 2001. Positive demand growth predictions and this year's planned Enel privatisation bode well for the development of future phases, Aguerri adds.

The site has average wind speeds of 8.5 m/s and a 41.5% predicted capacity factor. Enisa is reviewing options for equipment supply, Aguerri says. It may issue an open tender or negotiate directly with suppliers. Talks with Spanish wind turbine manufacturer Gamesa are already being held.

Bidding rules for the Enel contract stipulated that the developer should provide the site, with the result that a number of potential wind sites were brought to the public eye. One developer that did not in the end make a bid was Vientos de Nicaragua (Vensa), which still seeks developers for its 23 square kilometre site near the town of Juigalpa on the north eastern side of Lake Nicaragua. "The site has 83 MW potential capacity and a 40% plant capacity factor with annual average wind speeds of 10.6 m/s," says Vensa president Fernando Gallo.

Opening up

Despite losing the Enel opportunity, Vensa could still develop its project by selling to private clients. The potential market for that is large, as Nicaragua has the lowest installed capacity in the region and not even importing power from neighbours avoids the need for companies to have to invest in costly back-up generation equipment. But in order for this to happen, Gallo says, the government has to define the minimum consumption limit for companies to qualify as unregulated clients and therefore have the freedom to negotiate power supply with private generators.

According to estimates from the United States government, required power sector investment in Nicaragua is $1.8 billion over the next 20 years. Apart from the wind capacity around Rivas, central Chontales region has 60 MW wind potential, as well as an uncalculated amount on the Atlantic coast. Wind power is new on the scene there, Aguerri explains, adding that initially it was not understood and that lack of information was a hinderance. The perception of wind has since changed and the government's help in developing the resource has been "unconditional," he says.

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