"We see signs of improvement but it is unlikely that hundreds of megawatts will come online soon," says Dana Younger, renewable energy advisor at the International Finance Corporation. His focus has turned away from the region in recent times as he works on deals in other major developing countries such as India and China.
Latin America's only big wind achievement in 2007 was Mexico's 83.3 MW La Venta II wind farm in southern Oaxaca state, commissioned in March. The high profile event was attended by Mexican President Felipe Calderón, a recognised supporter of renewables and climate change mitigation. Spain's Iberdrola and Gamesa Eólica developed the 98-turbine project, which uses Gamesa 850 kW machines. National power company CFE handed over $111 million for La Venta II, which has a $25 million grant from the World Bank's Global Environment Facility. It is selling its certified emission reduction units to Spain. The revenue is offsetting investment costs by 10.8%, according to the bank.
With La Venta II complete, Mexico's installed wind capacity reached 88 MW, building on the existing 1.5 MW at La Venta I and 0.6 MW at Guerrero Negro in Baja California Sur state as well as 3 MW of small turbines in various locations. But that would seem to be the end of activity for the time being. Mauricio Trujillo of the Latin American Wind Energy Association (LAWEA) says CFE's reluctance to provide transmission lines to the Oaxaca region, where the bulk of Mexico's wind projects are planned, is to blame. Once transmission lines are in place, upwards of 2000 MW could be developed there by 2013, he says.
That may yet happen. Eduardo Zenteno, president of Mexican wind energy association AMDEE, believes the situation is improving: CFE agreed at the end of last year to invest in the needed wires. Several international companies, including Gamesa, Iberdrola, Eurus, Eoliatec and French utility EDF have projects in various stages of development and around 300 MW could come online towards the end of 2008, although most are likely in 2009, says Zenteno. "Old political barriers are being removed," he adds. "Politically, 2008 should be one of the best years ever for wind power." He expects an improvement in regulations and market transparency.
Last year was an anticlimax in Brazil after a strong 2006. Regarded as the most promising market in Latin America in the short term, Brazil mustered no more than the 10.2 MW Millennium project in 2007, developed by Australian energy company Pacific Hydro. The project, at Mataraca in Paraíba state, uses 12, Enercon 850 kW turbines manufactured by Wobben Enercon, the Brazilian arm of Germany's Enercon and is supported under the national renewable energy program, Programa de Incentivo às Fontes Alternativas de Energia Elétrica (Proinfa). The program has now stimulated 218.5 MW of wind development, which added to 28.55 MW of non-Proinfa projects installed before last year brings Brazil's total to 247 MW.
The Brazilian wind industry is confident that 2008 will be a better year. Proinfa alone should lead to between 500 MW and 600 MW of new wind energy this year, according to Andre Leal, project manager at Rio de Janeiro-based renewable energy company Ecoinvest. Although last year shows that big expectations for growth under the program have been coming up short. This year should see companies such as renewable power producer Econergy, which secured a $79.4 million loan from development bank BNDES in January, set-up its 25.6 MW Beberibe wind project in Ceará before the looming Proinfa deadline in December.
The market should be helped by the government's easing of its requirement that wind turbines chosen by a developer must largely be made in Brazil before a project is eligible for Proinfa support, says Lauro Fiúza from the Associação Brasileira de Energia Eólica. How much the Proinfa rule has been eased is not clear, but a newfound flexibility is being widely reported. Fiúza expects the flexibility to stretch to an easing of the December deadline for project completion. The real hope of Brazil's wind industry, however, is that the energy ministry will invite bids for wind power contracts, or introduce specific incentives for wind development. Leal says Proinfa is not enough.
New equipment manufacturers are moving in. Argentina's Impsa plans to produce 1.5 MW turbines under license from German company Vensys for the Brazilian market. Germany's Fuhrländer and India's Suzlon have also made clear their interest in establishing manufacturing, although neither have committed yet.
Argentina, Chile and Ecuador
Argentina also failed to live up to its potential last year with only one turbine coming online, a DeWind 2 MW machine, says Alejandro García, president of ABO Wind Energías Renovables SA. British engineering company Seawind erected it at around 4000 metres in the Andes mountains for mining company Barrick Gold (Windpower Monthly, December 2007). Argentina now has 30 MW of wind power. But wind competing head-to-head on price with all other types of power, is not viable at the moment, says García.
Neighbouring Chile took its first major step towards becoming one of the region's big wind power players. Spanish utility Endesa inaugurated an 18.2 MW wind farm at Canela, ahead of another 40-50 MW lined up for construction in coming months, according to economic development agency Corfo (Windpower Monthly, January 2008). While some projects have environmental licenses, most are not likely to see completion until 2009, says Esteban Illanes of SN Power. Janine Hoey, Pacific Hydro's head of Latin American operations, is optimistic for 2008. Chile is waiting for a new renewable energy law, expected this month, that should help new projects, she says. The country's installed wind power has reached 20 MW.
Ecuador saw its first wind project in the Galapagos Islands where three 800 kW turbines were supplied by Gamesa subsidiary Made, with US utility American Electric Power managing the 2.4 MW project (Windpower Monthly, January 2008).
In Central America, Costa Rica's 49.5 MW Proyecto Eolico Guanacaste development is expected to bring 50% of its energy online by the end of 2008 with the remainder to be completed in 2009. A consortium of America's Econergy International, local energy company Saret and Germany's Jüwi last year signed up for 55 Enercon 900 kW wind turbines for the project (Windpower Monthly, November 2007). The new wind farm will be added to Costa Rica's existing 74 MW of wind power.
Guatemala may also welcome its first wind project in 2008. Israeli engineering group Tahal is studying where to install 45 MW and is looking for investment of $60 million.
Cuba brought online two small wind projects totalling 6.7 MW. The country is expected to start building its fourth wind project in 2008, located in Corralillo in the central province of Villa Clara. The 10 MW project should contribute power to the national grid in 2009. China's Goldwind Science and Technology signed an agreement with Chilean project development companies to supply six 750 kW turbines to the Cuba project, dubbed Gibara II, according to media reports. It is a second phase of one of the two projects installed in 2007.
Elsewhere in the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic has 200 MW of wind power in development. But according to LAWEA's Dario Moreta, only some small private projects of between 1 MW and 5 MW could potentially be realised in 2008. Political indecision and unclear rules are deterring investors, he warns. Upcoming elections on the island are also likely to slow the development as politicians focus on votes rather than national energy concerns, he says.