The project was originally approved in 1997, but it was not until November 1999 that financing was confirmed, says Etesa's Ligia Lobo. In December, a 15 month contract was awarded to German engineering company Lahmeyer International to make a current Panama wind atlas. Lahmeyer chose the six potential sites, installed towers and measured wind speeds for one year at heights of 20 metres and 40 metres. Data will be combined with existing information to produce the maps.
In addition, Lahmeyer will identify the best three sites for wind farms and will then participate with Etesa on the commercial development of the best one. Initial data suggests this would be around 10-20 MW. It could be formally presented to the private sector in February to gain an indication of private sector interest, Lobo says.
For the wind farm to progress beyond the presentation, the state will have to call a tender. The UNDP is prepared to finance wind farms up to 20 MW. Three private sector companies are developing their own wind studies in Panama, Lobo says, adding that some five or six have already expressed an interest in wind power in the country. Preliminary studies suggest that Panama has approximately 300 MW of wind capacity. "But I think that's very low and could be higher," Lobo says. "That's what we're going to confirm with the project." About 51% of the country's near-1000 MW total installed capacity is hydroelectric, with diesel-fired facilities providing the rest. Demand is growing at about 50 MW a year.
Parallel to the wind studies, Etesa and Lahmeyer are continuing a project to identify the barriers to renewables in Panama. Etesa hopes to have the final document ready by year end along with a strategic plan to eliminate or minimise these barriers.