Success of island wind diesel pilot prompts call for copy-cat projects

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A pilot project to install hybrid diesel and wind generators in southern Chile's Chiloé archipelago has shown sufficiently encouraging results for the country's national energy commission (CNE) to seek financing to expand the project to 32 islands from the single island that it started on. Eighty families on Tac island are connected to a 15 kilometre distribution network, where distributor Saesa works as a service company administrating the system. The islands targeted in the build-out expansion are those not in line for grid connection, says CNE's Javier Castillo. Although total installed wind capacity is unlikely to top much more than 1 MW, investment will be around $12 million because of the low economies of scale of small scale turbines (10-125 kW) and duplicating distribution systems in a number of different locations, Castillo says. CNE is talking with international and domestic financing sources such as the United Nations Development Program, the World Bank's Global Environment Facility, the G7 group of industrialised nations and Chile's environment commission Conama. CNE plans to launch an international tender for a minimum 20-year operating concession once financing is secured, Castillo says, adding that the winner will select the equipment supplier. American company Bergey Windpower provided the turbines for the pilot project. When and if financing will be confirmed is, however, uncertain. "We've been saying for a few years that it would be the end of the year, so I wouldn't like to say," says Castillo. "But we're a lot closer now than we were a few years ago." Several local and international companies have already expressed an interest in the operating concession, which the government guarantees to make profitable through subsidies. Meanwhile, the country's Region V governor, Vicente Garcia, assures that wind studies for a possible project on Robinson Crusoe island and its neighbour Alejandro Selkirk will soon be completed, according to the El Mercurio de Valparaiso newspaper. The regional government plans to invest some $1 million to install a small wind turbine project to complement the incumbent diesel-fired generation.

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