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Argentina is choosing an original route to wind power development. The job is being taken on by large scale community co-operatives, six of which have installed wind turbines over the past two years. Now it seems the energy ministry is considering introducing legislation to encourage and facilitate connection of independent power plant and sales of power to the grid. Wind power will be given first priority.

"There is no doubt this regulation will help the growth of wind generation by means of medium to large size machines," says Argentinean wind energy consultant Fernando Braconi, from Buenos Aires. "With a moderated introduction of wind energy to Argentina there should be good business opportunities for independent power producers and for manufacturers of wind turbines."

Leading the way in co-operative development is the Co-operative Popular de Comodora Rivadavia Limitada in the province of Chubut. It installed two Micon 250 kW wind turbines from Denmark in January 1994 to test the huge wind resource of the Patagonia. Since then, no less than four other communities have followed suit. In the past two years nearly 2.5 MW of wind plant have gone in the ground in Argentina.

For a country which only reached relative economic stability in 1990 -- and which has only recently privatised its entire electricity supply industry -- these are encouraging signs for the wind industry. Power generation in Argentina is otherwise based on fossil fuel, hydro and nuclear. Of the nearly 53 GWh supplied in 1993, thermoelectric plants supplied some 46.8%, hydro 38.5% and nuclear 14.7%.

Until now, Argentina has dabbled very little in renewable energy for electricity generation, but the windswept Patagonia region -- with one of the best wind energy resources in the world -- has spawned a substantial industry for water pumping windmills over the past 25 years. Today it is estimated that more than 500,000 windmills are operated on farms scattered throughout the country, explains Braconi.

Recent efforts to quantify the wind resource in the 800,000 square kilometres of the Patagonia leave no doubt about its scale, he adds. According to data collected by the Regional Center of Wind Energy (CREE) in Rawson in the province of Chubut, wind energy potential is more than 2500 kWh per square metre of rotor swept area.

Studies published by the Argentine energy agency also suggest there are good sites for wind development in the centre and north of the country. Wind data has been collected at a height of ten metres at more than 110 measuring stations scattered throughout the country.

Prior to Comodora Rivadavia's pioneering installation of its two Micon units, the only other electricity generating wind plant of any size in Argentina was at Rio Mayo, also in Chubut. This pilot plant of four German Aeroman turbines, each rated at 30 kW, was installed by the town to augment a local diesel grid of 1.3 MW. The project was Argentina's first taste of wind power and, although problems were encountered with the system as a whole, it gave other Argentinean townships an appetite for more.

Comodora Rivadavia is a town of 124,000 citizens, mainly earning a living from textiles, crude oil and natural gas production, with port activities and fishing playing an increasing role. Since 1993 the co-operative has supplied a variety of services to the community, the main one being electricity. Its first step into wind energy was as far back as 1983 when it agreed to operate a Dornier 25 kW vertical axis wind turbine for the Argentine National Commission for Aerospace Investigation. "This pilot machine gave the co-operative some credibility as a wind power generator and proved that the Patagonia is a great area for wind energy," says Braconi.

Despite the availability and relatively low cost of natural gas in the region, the co-operative took up the challenge of producing electricity from the wind, even though no subsidies were available. Three years ago it formed a joint venture company with Micon, named Pecorsa, to install and operate two Micon units. A site was chosen atop Arenal hill, about ten kilometres from the town of Comodora Rivadavia and 400 metres above sea level. At the same time some 200 hectares of land on the hill were bought, with plans to eventually install a multi megawatt wind farm there.

Since their installation in January 1994, output from the two wind turbines has exceeded expectations with a mean annual wind speed measured at 9.3 m/s, the lowest winds blowing in the autumn at 8.3 m/s and the highest mean registered in the spring, an impressive 10 m/s.

"The co-operative can feel very proud of itself. It is the first in Argentina to offer a community this service. The community saves over one million cubic metres of natural gas," says Braconi.

As well as looking at legislation for connecting wind plant to the grid, the energy ministry is also aware of the considerable potential of the remote market in Argentina. Many outlying communities are reliant on expensive diesel oil for their electricity generation, with others totally without power.

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