The renewable energy conundrum

Mexico is a sunny country. No flies on me, eh?! People use solar energy to heat water in their homes (we’ve benefited from many a solar heated shower), and occasionally to generate electricity – although the expense is beyond the budget of most.

As far as large scale renewable energy is concerned, there is little evidence of development (in the parts we have traveled through thus far, anyway).

President Calderon has promised to cut Mexico’s greenhouse gas emissions by 5% during his six years in office (until 2012). He thinks the country should halve emissions by the year 2050. With a low-lying territory in the southeast and in parts of Baja California, Mexico is very vulnerable to rising sea levels, and must make an effort to reduce greenhouse gases if it wants others (particularly the USA) to follow suit. Renewable energy would seem a good starting point.

We have just passed through the isthmus of Mexico, a 130 miles wide funnel formed by two mountain ranges where wind from the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico blasts through to the Pacific. It is windy. There is a place called La Ventosa – ‘windy place’ – to prove it.

Here there is evidence of renewable energy development in a BIG way. Calderon wants to build 2,500 MW of wind power there before the end of 2012. There are already hundreds of wind turbines dotted across the flat, hot land. Plus, signs that more are being erected. A fantastic use of an incredible resource.

However, there seem to be problems. The turbines are being built on farmland, and the farmers are often given an incredibly bad deal by the foreign companies that bring the turbines. The land is often taken needlessly out of use for cultivation as people don’t understand that dual use is possible. It is easy to take advantage of those who have no idea of the profitability of electricity generation.

Also, apparently there are problems with abuse of the land. The companies not respecting the environment – building huge roads to enable transportation of the turbines, etc.

Obviously, renewable energy is a good thing. But you need regulations to protect the people and the environment from the negative side effects of foreign companies moving in to exploit the land’s resources. Much of the energy generated in the isthmus is apparently going to multi-national companies for greenwash rather than the local area. There is an interesting article about the issues in the isthmus here.

There are other experiments going on with large scale renewables that we heard of. In the deserts of northern Mexico the use of cactus for biomass is apparently being looked into. Cactus needs little water, and could be a good fuel to generate much needed electricity for farmers in remote areas. Again though, we were told that the opportunities are never open to local communities, only big companies that can afford to fund the projects. There is little in the way of funding at the smaller scale level – for the remote, rural communities that need it most.

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4 Responses to The renewable energy conundrum

  1. Judy says:

    Very interesting. Getting the balance right between large scale renewables and local benefit/impact seems to be problematic in developing as well as developed nations. I don’t know if this principle is being developed as a more mainstream issue yet. Do they have such a thing as Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) and a planning system in Mexico? Even if the EIAs are often driven by those with an agenda, at least there is a methodology for local voices to be heard through the planning system eg in Lincolnshire where there seems to have been development refusal of wind farms etc as a response to local objections.

    • Charlotte says:

      I think EIAs – if they exist – are very much in their infancy! And the concept of giving locals a voice in matters such as large energy projects, also seems nonexistent. I think that many of the objections in the UK against wind farms are often related to the ‘eyesore’ factor. I don’t reckon many people in Mexico would consider that too important – especially if they stood to gain from the project. The problem is that they seem to gain too little, and are easily taken advantage of. Most of the renewable energy companies that operate here are from Europe and the USA – I guess they are having a field day with the lack of regulations and red tape in this part of the world. It’s an interesting and complicated conundrum.

  2. Linda Steel says:

    Hello have just driven past nearest windfarm and observed pasture beneath and peacefully grazing cattle ( by the way meant to tell you the indoor superdairyat Nocton was refused but the landowners are looking at every which way to appeal, second attempt also failed ) I hope some Mexican people get to read your blogs but also that at the very least when you are with them and chatting they hear that things can be done local, small and differently to accomodate their needs and maybe you will have sown a seed of hope.
    Your recent blogs and pics and tales of folk met are amazing and your enthusiasm still shining through after all that pedalling those demanding up and downhills. Love hearing about all those Mexican foods but srikes me there have been few mentions of the groves and growing of all those limes and chillies and i think no reference at all yet to THE avocado. Look forward to tales of those and more info.Mum xxxxx

    • Charlotte says:

      The avocado is indeed native to Mexico, although it wasn’t until we got to Guatemala that we actually say an avocado tree. Maybe we just weren’t looking hard enough… Apparently the word ‘avocado’ comes from the Aztec word for ‘testicle’ – referring of course to the shape. Lovely. We have eaten a lot of avocados and they are out of this world. So much better than the imported rubbish we get in the UK.

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