Photovoltaics lighting up the night in rural Nicaragua

Taken from Nicaragua News 15/03/15

Photovoltaic projects, both large and small, are transforming the night in rural Nicaragua. Salvador Mansell, minister of energy and mines, also noted that the Sandinista government is prioritizing the installation of electric service on the Caribbean Coast. He also said that a new substation in Mulukuku will supply power to the North Caribbean Autonomous Region. “We are beginning a very broad program of electricity coverage in the Caribbean,” he said. “Two hundred kilometers of transmission lines have been built between Siuna and Puerto Cabezas (Bilwi), and 1,500 solar panels will be installed as well as several new substations.” In Tipitapa, near Managua, Canadian Solar has announced it will build the largest photovoltaic park in Nicaragua (3.1 megawatts) to serve the Franca Astro Free Trade Zone which is home to 26 companies. Two Nicaraguan banks are financing the project.

Originally taken from Informe Pastran, Mar. 6, 2015

Household solar energy initiatives, Masaya, Nicaragua

´Proyecto Sol´ or Project Sun was established through the Nicaraguan organisation ADIC (Integral Community Development Association), based in the city and department of Masaya. This is “a forgotten region between the country’s two largest lakes”[1] dominated by large rice farms and big landowners. Multiple small communities inhabit the margins of the large rice farms. Power lines can be seen running over these rural communities but apart from a few houses, the electricity is devoted to pumping water through the farms’ thirsty irrigation systems and thus the workers live in darkness. Unless the privatised electricity grid is extended (unlikely – see the case study on privatisation in Nicaragua earlier in this chapter), remote neighbourhoods will never have the privilege of this requisite and the energy crisis will persist.

Being a green and reliable source of electrical power, solar panels are an obvious solution to this problem. Previously only wealthy families had the capital to purchase the equipment, but with the nature of ADIC´s repayment schemes, poorer families can repay the $700/£500 cost over a period of 5-7 years, based on what they can afford each month.[2] The cost is no more than that which would be paid for electricity from the national provider, and the repayments are used in a revolving fund for further reinvestment.

To July 2010, 135 solar panels have been installed in 15 different communities, and the demand is increasing. Once 200 kits have been installed, the repayment account will be healthy enough to provide 25-30 new panels per year.[3] The micro-loan fund is one of this project’s key success factors and it has proven to be a potential application for vulnerable communities throughout Central America.[4]

One such success story is that of Señora Amada Concepción – the recipient of the one hundredth solar panel kit to be installed. She and her community live without electricity in an area of low lying marshland in the district of Tisma. Equipment was brought in by horse and cart as the connecting road is impassable.[5] The family now have electricity for the first time.

Although surveys done by Proyecto Sol reveal that initially communities are sceptical about solar energy, house owners are rapidly converted to the scheme once the preliminary demonstration equipment is seen to work even on cloudy days during the rainy season.[6] The output of each panel is enough for 3 or 4 light bulbs, as well as a socket for use by a TV or radio for a few hours a day.

The project coordinator is Englishman John Perry, now a permanent resident in Masaya. Through his contacts with British based Housing Associations, he and ADIC have ascertained the capital to initiate Proyecto Sol and other schemes which aim to improve infrastructure for low income families in Masaya.


[1] ADIC (March 2010) ‘We own the land, water, electricity…’, Agrovivenda Bulletin , No.21, ADIC.
[2] John Perry, project coordinator, interviewed especially for this book, 20 July 2010, Masaya, Nicaragua.
[3] John Perry (Winter 2008) ‘Sun lights off-grid communities in Nicaragua’, Central America Report, www.central-america-report.org.uk
[4] Matthew Barker (23 January 2009) ‘Out of the darkness’, Inside Housing, p.36-37.
[5] ADIC (September 2008) ‘First 100 Solar systems installed’, Agrovivenda Bulletin, No.18, ADIC.
[6] Op.cit, Perry (2008).

Costa Rica’s New President Leads the Way with Fossil Fuel Ban

By Martin Mowforth

In May this year [2018], Carlos Alvarado Quesada of the centre-left Citizens’ Action Party (PAC) was elected President of Costa Rica.

In his inauguration speech he declared that “Decarbonisation is the great task of our generation and Costa Rica must be one of the first countries in the world to accomplish it, if not the first. We have the titanic and beautiful task of abolishing the use of fossil fuels in our economy to make way for the use of clean and renewable energies.”

Before becoming President, Alvarado was a journalist, writer and political scientist who had studied at the University of Costa Rica and later at the University of Sussex where he gained a Masters in Development Studies.

There is no doubt that Alvarado is keen to pursue and promote environmental initiatives, but the task of turning the country into what he calls “the world’s decarbonisation laboratory” will not be an easy one. As an article in ENCA 69 (March 2017, ‘Costa Rica’s environmental reputation’) pointed out, although the country produces well over 90% of its electrical energy without the use of fossil fuels, around 70% of that energy comes from hydro-electricity generated from large-scale dams, whose environmental credentials are increasingly questioned. Also the Costa Rican transport sector has generated growing use of fossil fuels as a result of the growth in car ownership and use in recent years, with so far few signs of a willingness to switch to electric vehicles.

It will be interesting to watch the statistics of Costa Rica’s fossil fuel use during the period of his presidency.

Firewood, tortillas and floods

???????????????????????????????It may sometimes be difficult to see the link between the tortillas served with your meals in Managua and the floods that frequently occur in the city, but it exists.

Tortillas in Managua are cooked over firewood from the higher zones of the city and neighbouring municipalities such as Tipitapa which is one of the most deforested in the country. Jaime Incer Barquero, president of Fundenic SOS and a former Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources, never tires of pointing out the contradiction to the people in the higher zones of Managua: “In the mornings they go down to the city with their carts full of firewood, and later they return with water.”[1] Incer points out that these people do not have any water because they are felling their trees for firewood which they sell in order to buy water. If they didn’t fell their trees, their water sources would still be viable and they could save themselves the journey.

According to the article in La Prensa[2], more than one of the wells of the Nicaraguan Company of Water and Sewage Systems (ENACAL) in the south of the city has dried up. Floods, droughts, a lack of water and even landslides are only some of the most dangerous collateral damage caused, at least in part, by the irrational use of firewood in Nicaragua. “Urbanisation has only increased the use of firewood for cooking. The Young Environmentalists Club believes that the firewood problem is a reflection of two things: the underdevelopment of the country and the difficulty in accessing alternative technologies.”[3]


[1] Jaime Incer Barquero cited in ‘La leña causa serios daños colaterales’, in La Prensa, Managua, 6 March 2011.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Nicaragua News (8 March 2011) ‘Firewood cooking has many consequences’, Nicaragua News Service, Managua.

Costa Rica’s environmentalists caught in a quandary – the climate or the parks?

In 2008, environmentalists in Costa Rica successfully campaigned against a proposed law which would allow the state-owned electricity company (ICE) to explore geothermal energy within national parks. The proposed law would have allowed ICE to explore for geothermal energy within national parks without conducting an environmental impact study. The cost of such exploration would be a portion of the sales of electricity dedicated to the national parks system.[1]

ICE president Pedro Pablo Quirós has estimated that there is a potential of 800 MW of geothermal energy in the area from the Poás Volcano north to the frontier with Nicaragua, but much of this area is protected against development. Quirós has continued to push the Legislative Assembly to modify the existing legislation to allow exploration and investigation of geothermal energy within the parks.[2]

President of the Costa Rican Wildlife Preservation Association (APREFLOFAS) Angeline Morín, on the other hand, declared her organisation’s opposition to the opening up of national parks for any purposes. She is particularly concerned about the effect of the development on wildlife and she supports other alternatives such as wind and solar power in place of geothermal energy.

Quirós claims that the ICE is the country’s largest investor in reforestation and that around the Miravalles geothermal plant (Costa Rica’s most productive geothermal power plant) there wasn’t a single tree when the plant was first developed. Now it is completely reforested.[3]

Efforts to modify the laws governing developments in national parks were still ongoing during 2011, and an editorial piece in The Tico Times suggests that “the solution is to carefully change the law to allow the exploitation of geothermal energy in selected national parks, subject to rigorous controls, including careful study of impacts on biodiversity and hydrological resources.”[4]


[1] Central America Data (13 July 2009) ‘No to Geothermal Energy in Costa Rica’, http://en.centralamericadata.com/en/article/home/No-to_Geothermal_Energy_in _Costa_Rica (accessed 18.07.11).
[2] NotiCen writers (12 March 2009) ‘Clean but not green: geothermal developers in Costa Rica at odds with environmentalists’, http://repository.unm.edu/handle/1928/11022 (accessed 08.07.11).
[3] Daniel Zueras (12 July 2011) ‘Costa Rica Invests in Geothermal Power Generation’, Tierramérica, www.tierramerica.info/nota.php?lang=eng&idnews=3008 (accessed 12.07.11).
[4] The Tico Times (7 August 2009) ‘Taking a Giant Leap Toward Energy Independence’, Editorial, The Tico Times, San José, Costa Rica.

Green dam linked to killings of six indigenous people in Guatemala

By Arthur Neslen in Brussels, Thursday 26th March 2015.

The following is a link to a March 2015 article in The Guardian (London) regarding plans for the San Rita dam in Guatemala, carbon credits for which will be tradable under the EU’s emissions trading scheme.

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/mar/26/santa-rita-green-dam-killings-indigenous-people-guatemala
(c) Guardian News & Media Ltd.

Wind energy and power privatisation in Nicaragua

In September 2000 plans to bring wind power to Nicaragua were scuppered by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) which blocked the Spanish company IBERDROLA from providing this renewable resource.[1] The reason was that the value of the soon-to-be privatised national power company ENEL, would be significantly lowered, since the Spanish company would be able to provide substantially cheaper rates of power than ENEL. The foreign companies bidding to buy ENEL would therefore be allowed to continue to generate power, and pollution, from oil in old facilities which are constantly at risk of breakdown.

IDB officials threatened the Nicaraguan government with the stoppage of all IDB support should they proceed with the IBERDROLA deal. This was almost universally seen as a direct violation of Nicaraguan sovereignty. Despite strong opposition, however, the Nicaraguan government continued to privatise ENEL and agreed that a contract with the Spanish energy company would have negative impacts on the privatisation.

Outwardly, there were powerful interests which did not wish to see the conversion of an energy source that would liberate a country like Nicaragua from spending its scarce foreign exchange resources on importing petroleum to burn in inefficient and pollution-causing power stations.[2]


[1] Environmental Network for Central America (ENCA) (February 2001) ‘IDB blocks wind power in Nicaragua’, ENCA Newsletter No.28, pp.6-7.
[2] Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign (NSC) (Sept 2000) Eco-Alert correspondence, ‘Inter-American Development Bank Blocks Wind-Power in Nicaragua’, nsc@nicaraguasc.org.uk.

Oil exploration in Belize

In 2005 Belize also became an oil producing nation and Belize Natural Energy Ltd (a US company) was formed to exploit it. Despite the fact that it has no refining capacity and therefore has to continue importing all its oil requirements, for a small country like Belize the chance to provide all its own energy from sources within the country is obviously enticing; and as usual the websites of the oil companies involved all display their commitment to environmental responsibility. There is no difficulty, however, in finding Belizeans who oppose oil drilling and who believe that their country can still provide all its energy requirements from within its borders without oil. APAMO (Association of Protected Areas Management Organisations), for instance, is an umbrella group of NGOs involved in managing Belizean protected areas and has called for a total ban on offshore oil exploration after a map showing oil concession areas was leaked to the press. SATIIM (Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management) also expressed their concern to the government about oil development and are calling for a referendum on the issue.

Berta Cáceres Receives The Goldman Environmental Prize, 2015

The Goldman Environmental Prize honours grassroots environmental heroes from the world’s six inhabited continental regions: Africa, Asia, Europe, Islands & Island Nations, North America, and South & Central America. The Prize recognizes individuals for sustained and significant efforts to protect and enhance the natural environment, often at great personal risk. The Goldman Prize views ‘grassroots’ leaders as those involved in local efforts, where positive change is created through community or citizen participation in the issues that affect them. Through recognizing these individual leaders, the Prize seeks to inspire other ordinary people to take extraordinary actions to protect the natural world.

Further video clips are available on the Goldman Environmental Prize website at:http://www.goldmanprize.org/recipient/berta-caceres/

Readers of ‘The Violence of Development’ website are urged to follow this link to listen to the Goldman profile story of Berta’s leadership of the struggle waged by COPINH against hydro-electric power schemes in one region of Honduras and in particular to hear her inspirational acceptance speech.

Geothermal energy development in Central America

The board of Polaris Energy Nicaragua (PENSA) and the Central America Bank for Economic Integration (BCIE) signed a credit agreement for US$77 million to expand electricity generation at the San Jacinto Tizate Geothermal Plant by 36 megawatts from its current 10 MW for a total of 46 MW by April 2011 and 72 MW by the end of that year. The project is being financed by a consortium of Canadian and Dutch banks and administered by the BCIE.

When its final phase is completed at a cost of US$149.5 million, the geothermal plant will produce 150 MW of electricity saving more than 540,000 barrels of oil a year and will create 260 permanent jobs. The first phase alone will save US$38 million in oil purchases.

Treasury Minister Alberto Guevara and BCIE President Silvio Conrado also announced the signing of a loan for US$22.9 million to finance construction of the Larreynaga hydroelectric dam which has the potential to produce 17 MW of electricity. This loan is on top of the US$36.7 million already approved for the project. President Daniel Ortega spoke of the need to gradually reduce dependence on oil but also said that a mix of oil, wind and hydro power would be required as it would not be possible to produce 100% of Nicaragua’s energy needs by geothermal generation.


Taken from Nicaragua News, 19.01.10, and El Nuevo Diario, 13.01.10.

Small-scale solar power in Nicaragua

On 22 February 2017, NicaNet (the Nicaragua Network) reported the following in its weekly blog (www.nicanet.org/).

A report published by the French news agency AFP states that Nicaragua is carrying out a renewable energy revolution that is bringing electricity and prosperity to isolated rural communities in the country. The AFP report noted that 1,500 solar panels have been installed in homes and schools on the Nicaraguan Caribbean coast, as well as 250 solar powered water pumping systems benefiting farmers in the Pacific dry corridor.

Expanding Rural Energy Access in Nicaragua through Solar Panel Programmes (Photo credit: Green Empowerment)

 

Installing a solar panel on the roof of Los Pozitos school building. (Photo credit: Martin Mowforth)

Case study: HEP projects in Panama’s Changuinola-Teribe hydrographic basin

Extracted from original text of Chapter 4.

The problems mentioned there by Alida Spadafora [interview] are suitably illustrated in here giving an introduction to a series of HEP schemes currently under construction in the Bocas del Toro province in north-west Panamá. A 2006 report[i] presented a cost-benefit analysis of the four hydroelectric projects. The four dams (Chan 75, Chan 140, Chan 220 and Bonyic) are located in the Changuinola-Teribe hydrographic basin, three projects on the Changuinola River, and one on the Bonyic River. The rivers start in the Amistad National Park and the dams themselves are situated within the Palo Seco Protected Forest.

The required investment for the dams would exceed $538 million, and would result in a combined installed capacity of 446 megawatts. The analysis estimated that the company executing the projects would earn approximately $87 million in yearly profits, which translated into an economic ‘net present value’ of $92 million, representing overall net benefits for Panama. The report concludes that “the projects would most likely be both economically and financially feasible. Nonetheless, they would cause environmental damage in an area of global conservation interest and impose serious hardship on indigenous communities living along these rivers.”[ii] Crucially, they note that these monetary values obscure the environmental and social impacts and costs that the projects would have.

The specific case of one of these four dams, the Chan-75 HEP project, is worthy of further attention as it highlights the collusion of government and private companies and the gangster-like attitude adopted towards affected communities. Perhaps the body count resulting from this case of gangsterism is rather less than in many other case studies given in this book, but the arrogance and the willingness to ride roughshod over local people is as strong as ever. Here we present a few of the benefits and advantages of the scheme as predicted largely by the website of AES Changuinola, the company managing the project. Here we present a few of the social and environmental problems already caused and predicted to occur as a result of the scheme. The latter also lists several articles to which readers are referred for a more in-depth treatment that this case deserves. Several of these articles document the human rights abuses that have been committed against the Ngöbe and the Naso peoples in considerable detail, and in this regard the reader is referred specifically to Cultural Survival’s ‘Dam Nation’ article. These abuses are also considered again in Chapter 8 of this book and reference forward specifically to this website’s items entitled ‘The Ngöbe-Bugle and dam projects on the Río Changuinola‘ and ‘Testimony from the Naso‘ provides further evidence of the gangster attitudes of the Panamanian government and of the companies involved in the development towards the people affected.

Application to the Clean Development Mechanism of the United Nations has been made for subsidies to support the Chan-75 project on account of the savings in greenhouse gases estimated for the project. The application made by AES Changuinola failed to mention the social and environmental impacts or the social opposition to the scheme. In fact it cited “ample support” from local populations, but when the UN Special Rapporteur on indigenous rights visited the project area he found “significant discontent”.[iii] Osvaldo Jordan goes further in his critique of the development: “The Chan 75 hydroelectric project … revealed the monstrosity of the neo-liberal multicultural citizenship regime that had been adopted by the Panamanian state in the 1990s.”[iv] In similar vein, Finley-Brook and Thomas assert that the case demonstrates “hybrid neo-liberalisation as private and state institutions sell formerly collective resources to feed urban electrification and foreign carbon markets.”[v]

Oscar Reyes from Carbon Trade Watch considers the Chan-75 project to be another example that proves the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism is being treated as “a subsidy stream for environmentally destructive projects.” He states that “it risks a lose-lose scenario, where the people and environment of Panama are threatened by a project that would allow industries elsewhere to continue polluting.”[vi]

The issue of the Clean Development Mechanism and the issuing of carbon credits to dam projects is taken up again in greater detail in Chapter 10


[i]   Cordero, S., Montenegro, R., Mafla, M., Burgués, I., and Reid, J. (2006) ‘Análisis de costo beneficio de cuatro proyectos hidroeléctricos en la cuenca Changuinola-Teribe’, INCAE Business School, Alianza para la Cooperación y el Desarrollo, Asociación ANAI, and the Conservation Strategy Fund (July).
[ii]   Ibid., p.10
[iii]   James Anaya (7 September 2009) Informe del Relator Especial sobre la situación de los derechos humanos y las libertades fundamentales de los indígenas: Observaciones sobre la situación de la comunidad Charco la Pava y otras comunidades afectadas por el proyecto hidroeléctrico Chan 75 (Panamá), Report presented to the Human Rights Council at the UN General Assembly.
[iv]   Osvaldo Jordán (2008) ‘“I entered during the day, and came out during the night”: power, environment and indigenous peoples in a globalising Panama’, Tennessee Journal of Law and Policy 4 (2) 467-505. [Quote from P.500]
[v]  Op.cit. (Finley-Brook and Thomas, p. 269.
[vi]  Osvaldo Jordan and Oscar Reyes (2008) UN ‘clean development’ money sought for dam that threatens World Heritage Site in Panama, La Alianza para La Conservacion y El Desarrollo and Carbon Trade Watch /Transnational Institute, http://www.tni.org/article/un-%E2%80%98clean-development%E2%80%99-money-sought-dam-threatens-world-heritage-site-panama (Accessed 23/09/2010)