Mexico pollution credits pilot project, rural electrification

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A pilot attempt at rural electrification in Mexico by two United States electric utilities is breaking new ground in the use of carbon dioxide pollution credits to spur development of renewable energy in Third World countries. The novel scheme -- part of the US Department of Energy's Climate Challenge programme -- is based on wind and PV and may become the model for other remote villages in Mexico.

The hybrid system for the coastal village of San Juanico, in Baja California in north western Mexico, is to consist of ten 10 kW wind turbines, almost certainly to be Bergey Excel units, and 18 kW of PV. It would also include a 420 kW battery bank, and a 72 kW diesel back-up to provide some two-thirds of the community's load, about 460 kWh daily.

Once installed, the hybrid would mark the first time that Mexico's Comision Federal de Electricidad (CFE) utility has become involved in remote village electrification. The two US utilities contributing financially are Arizona Public Service Co (APS) and Niagara Mohawk Power of New York state. APS is most involved technologically. Money is also coming from the US Agency for International Development, from the state and from the community.

The project, the APS/CFE Renewable Energy Mini-Grid Project, was initiated after the two US utilities gained $250,000 in tax credits because of their enrolment in the Climate Challenge programme, under which some utilities have promised to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the end of the decade. The tax credits are applicable only for a mitigation project outside the United States -- and hence the Mexico rural electrification project was born.

APS is also seeking designation of the project under the US Climate Change Action Plan (CCAP). It is not clear yet to what entity credits under that plan would be awarded, says Peter Johnston of APS who is heading the project. He also notes the project is taking longer than expected to get off the ground because there is little experience with such tax credits.

It is hoped that a supply of reliable power might boost the community of San Juanico, known for its world class surfing. The fishing village, with a population of some 400, has a fish processing plant that is not being used and a cold storage facility. Once installed, the hybrid scheme could be replicated in many of Mexico's thousands of villages are not connected to a grid. Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo has called for electrification of larger villages by the turn of the century. And there are 9000 communities with a population of more than 100. The issue, however, will be operational "sustainability" not "replicability" says Johnston. "We can install it, but it's up to the village to make sure it works," he says.

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