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)

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.

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 Nicaragua

US company to dig exploratory oil well off Caribbean Coast

The US oil company Noble Energy, which was granted a concession in 2009, will begin drilling its first deep water exploratory well in the Caribbean coastal waters of Nicaragua in August. The 3,000 meter well should be completed by the end of the year. Minister of Energy and Mines Emilio Rappaccioli, stated that the Nicaraguan government has confidence that the company, which expects to invest US$300 million in exploration in Nicaraguan waters, will have success. Under Nicaraguan law, the company will pay Nicaragua 15% of the gross production and a 3% tax to near-by municipalities for social projects. If the company finds sufficient oil or natural gas to be commercially viable, it will pay a 30% tax. Rappaccioli said that, if the existence of oil is confirmed, it is estimated that over 25 years the company could produce 500 million barrels for which it would pay the government US$17.5 billion. (Radio La Primerisima, June 25)


Taken from Nicaragua News, 2.7.13

Hydroelectric projects in Bocas del Toro, Panama

A 2006 study by Cordero et al[1] outlines the environmental and social concerns associated with the four dam projects in the Changuinola-Teribe hydrographic basin. These include effects on La Amistad International Park, which is a prime area of biodiversity, and which forms part of a biological corridor between North and South America, meaning that ecological damage could be far-reaching. Access roads would expose La Amistad International Park to deforestation. Aquatic biodiversity would be affected over 704 kilometers of rivers, and aquatic species could be lost within a total area of 1,493 sq km.

The study estimated the gross value of greenhouse gas emissions (caused by deforestation) at $24.9 million, and the costs of attempts at transporting fish around the dams at $1.3 million. Environmental costs unaccounted for in the economic analysis include loss of biodiversity, thermal stratification of the reservoir water (unnatural temperatures, decreased oxygenation) and the loss of integrity of La Amistad National Park and the Palo Seco Protected Forest.

In terms of socio-cultural impacts, the people living in the region to be affected by the projects are primarily indigenous (Naso and Ngöbe peoples – refer to Ch.8). They live relatively autonomously and with subsistence economies, which would be undermined by the hydroelectric projects. Losses of $56.2 million were predicted for these groups, in association with compromised access to resources and the costs of changes in lifestyles.

A key finding of the analysis was the profound inequity in the distribution of costs and benefits.

This is a clear case of an investment that may well be economically efficient, but will be inequitable. This analysis shows that an energy company, lenders and the government will reap the benefits of the project, while the costs will fall disproportionately on particular indigenous communities and on the natural ecosystems surrounding them.[2]

Compensation is one way of mitigating such disparities, and the authors suggest that the profits generated by the projects would be sufficient to alleviate and compensate for some of the economic and environmental costs to the indigenous communities. However, they also note the lack of any satisfactory plan to do so.


[1]   Cordero, S., Montenegro, R., Mafla, M., Burgués, I., and Reid, J. (July 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.
[2]  Ibid., p.11

Case study: Energy privatisation in Nicaragua

Referring to the energy market in Nicaragua during the 1990s, John Perry states that:

If there was a ‘strategic vision’ for the energy sector it was to privatise both the generators and the distribution system, make even greater use of oil, and trust the private sector to start to invest in a more modern system. The geothermal plant was privatised and the hydro-electric plant allowed to run down to the point where it operated well below capacity.[i]

The privatisation of the electricity distribution system in Nicaragua involved the Spanish transnational company Unión Fenosa, now generally referred to as ‘Unión Fenosa – Gas Natural’ as a result of the purchase of the company by another Spanish transnational energy company, Gas Natural. Because of its significance in the region, a brief summary of the company’s activities in Central America is given in the box following this text.

Although most urban areas in Nicaragua had electricity, in 1990 half the population were still not connected to the grid, but Nicaragua could ill-afford to challenge the imposition of the privatisation of the energy system by the World Bank, IMF and IDB. In any case, for 17 years [1990 – 2007] it had governments that embraced them enthusiastically and were able to portray them to critics as inescapable requirements.[ii]

The crown jewel of privatisation was the electricity distribution system. Only one company, Unión Fenosa, made a bid. It created two distribution companies and various offshoots to give the appearance of not being a monopoly, and bought the whole system with its bid of only $115 million (slightly more than half the value placed on it by the government). As well as the infrastructure, it acquired Nicaragua’s limited technical expertise – the engineers and economists who run the system, and even the laboratory which tests household meters.

Nicaragua therefore entered the current century with a newly-privatised electricity system covering only half the population, massively dependent on oil imports, and charging the highest consumer prices of any country in the region. The government had limited regulatory ability to control a multinational company whose contract was, in any case, underwritten by World Bank guarantees. It had also completely failed to develop alternative, more sustainable power sources, which might have increased its flexibility in dealing with the Spanish multinational.

Despite the promises, privatisation brought little new investment, so not only was power generation based on imported oil, it took place in old and inefficient power stations afflicted by frequent breakdowns. A combination of mismanagement and large numbers of illegal connections meant that, of the power that was generated and passed to Fenosa, some 30 per cent was still being lost before reaching legitimate end users.

While higher prices in Britain affect transport costs and might lead people to curb optional travel or switch to public transport, in Nicaragua the effects of oil costing up to $100 per barrel have been much more dramatic. The cost of basic foods has increased by up to 40 per cent, and the daily bus journey to work might consume most of your weekly earnings.

Despite the fact that the original sale had factored in guaranteed profit levels, and had even assumed a high level (15 per cent) of ‘technical losses’ in the distribution system, Fenosa has persistently sought higher prices or has added extra charges to bills. Electricity prices in Nicaragua are higher than anywhere else in Central America.

In 2006 and 2007, amidst widespread protests and a situation described by one of the main national newspapers as living “… in a state of catastrophe”, the power cuts were extended and formalised so in most places they lasted up to ten hours per day. The effect on the economy was disastrous.

Yet these problems only directly affect half the population, as the other half continue to have no connections to the grid. The system has hardly grown at all since Fenosa took it over. Although its bid contained promises of investment, there was no contractual timetable about how and where this should take place. In fact, where rural areas have secured electricity for the first time, this has been through international aid rather than as a result of investment by Fenosa.

President Daniel Ortega has described Unión Fenosa as “a mafia; it is a mafia structure that uses gangster tactics within the global economy.”[iii] Compared with what Unión Fenosa does elsewhere in Central America, its operations in Nicaragua appear tame. In Guatemala, for instance, its behaviour is more appropriately described as gangster-like.


[i] Op. cit., John Perry, page 231.
[ii] I am grateful to John Perry for his permission to use this summary of the case study of Nicaragua’s electricity privatisation which was provided in Chapter 17 (‘The debate on energy and climate change – a different perspective’, 2008, pp.229-244) of a book published by The Chartered Institute of Housing entitled ‘Housing, the Environment and our Changing Climate’.
[iii] President Daniel Ortega quoted by Luis Alemán (12 November 2007) ‘Fenosa “oídos sordos”’, El Nuevo Diario, Managua, Nicaragua.

More on Costa Rica’s carbon neutral efforts, 2017

Key words: fossil fuels; alternative energy sources; Reventazón hydro-electricity dam; car ownership growth; pollution levels.

In early January this year [2017] it was widely reported that in 2016 Costa Rica had produced 98% of its electricity without fossil fuels. This is an achievement that few countries have managed, including those that are much larger and richer than Costa Rica, and it is of course an achievement of which Costa Ricans are rightly proud.

Two factors, however, serve to undermine this achievement. First, the reliance of the renewables sector on hydro-electricity generated from large-scale dams; and second the growing use of cars in the country which means that, despite its renewable electricity generation, its demand for oil continues to increase.

Lindsay Fendt in San José reported for The Guardian on 5th January this year[1] that despite the country’s recent investments in wind and geothermal plants, it still regularly produces more than 70% of its electricity each year from dams. Solar power, Fendt suggests, ”has been pushed aside due to political concerns that home-generated [solar] power would cut into the state electricity company’s profits.”

Moreover, she reports that although the Reventazón hydro-electric dam became fully operational last September and can power over half a million homes, it was heavily criticised by environmental groups for its location in a critical wildlife corridor. Its alteration of the flow regime of the Reventazón River also attracted protests.

Costa Rican transport can certainly not claim any pretensions to sustainability, with a massive recent growth in car ownership to a level of 287 cars per 1,000 population – a level above both the world and the Latin American averages. Furthermore, only 2% of the country’s vehicles are hybrids or electric cars that can use the renewable electricity grid. The resulting pollution levels are giving cause for concern, especially in the capital San José.

So, behind Costa Rica’s reputation for environmental sustainable development – a reputation well-deserved relative to most other countries – there remain issues relating to pollution levels which reflect questions over the decisions made by Costa Rican politicians.


[1]           www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/05/costa-rica-renewable-energy-oil-cars?

 

San Marco – Indigenous Land Rights v Hydroelectric Projects

The following is a blog entry from ENCA member James Watson during the months of June and July 2015 when he accompanied the Honduran organisation COPINH (Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras).

Tuesday 30th June 2015

The COPINH group – Maryeli, María, Agostín and Selvín.

The COPINH group – Maryeli, María, Agostín and Selvín.

A couple of days after arriving in La Esperanza, COPINH invited me on a trip away from their base in the town, to visit one of the communities that serve as their main focus fighting for indigenous rights in Honduras. San Marco de la Sierra is a mountainous area just south of La Esperanza. Its inhabitants are campesino farmers whose livelihood is primarily subsistence agriculture, working family plots of land on precipitous mountainsides. Although close on the map, the journey from La Esperanza takes 5 hours, half of it driving on crumbling highways and winding mountain roads, and half walking on treacherous slopes in the thick Honduran heat. When heavy rains wash out the road the community can be completely isolated for weeks. COPINH has been active in various struggles for San Marco’s indigenous and human rights over the years. On this trip, COPINH was returning because of a new threat to their land, water and environmental and spiritual heritage.

The Muddy Waters of Hydroelectric Dams and ‘Trickle Down’ Economic Development

Hydroelectric dams are a difficult issue for environmentalists. At first sight, they represent a good clean source of renewable energy – much needed to avert climate change. However, they have are not without a significant negative impact. Physically, they involve some loss of land to the artificial lakes they create, and can involve homes being dispossessed – although this depends on the size of the dam and the nature of its surroundings. They interrupt and control the flow of water downstream, which can interfere with water supplies to communities and the environment – but on the other hand they can be tools to manage extremes of flooding or drought.

In reality, hydroelectric projects need to be seen in their specific socioeconomic context. The proposed San Marco project will put five dams along the stretch of the San Juan River which runs through the region. The companies and Honduran officials involved say the individual dams will be quite small, with minimal physical impact.

But the overall context of regional money and power paints a very different picture. The dams are among hundreds that have been planned throughout Honduras since the current corrupt government passed a law allowing the privatisation of water resources. Water is precious in Central America. It is essential for communities to live on, but it has increasingly become a commodity to be owned and extracted for Western companies. Hydroelectricity, mining (which uses vast amounts of water for mineral extraction and contaminates it in the process) and soft drinks production have made it more valuable in the hands of companies than communities. In fact, hydroelectricity is fundamentally connected to mining in Honduras. A significant part of the country’s hydroelectricity generation is channelled straight into new mining projects – which the current government has extended to include over 30% of the nation’s land-area! Water is now just one of the many valuable resources abundant in Central America being sold at rock bottom prices to foreign “investors”.

Honduras leads the way internationally for opening itself to this sort of ‘investment’. But the Honduran oligarchy that negotiates this business has more interest in its own wealth and in importing the trappings of European and United States society, than it does in helping its own country to develop. As such the wealth that should roll into the country in return for its resources is a mere trickle, and goes straight into private bank accounts which are used to buy foreign products. This simple reality is key to understanding why in many ‘developing’ countries around the world, top-down, investment-led, ‘trickle down’ economics has completely failed to improve the lives of anyone but the richest elites.

When it comes to the remote indigenous in Honduras however, the most important perspective is that of local power, land and culture. Although the San Marco project officials say the dam will be small, it will carve out sections of the land and river and surround them in fences, blocking access for the campesinos. It will impose a new power structure of owner vs owned on their land. The indigenous Lenca live off the land and value and protect it. Traditionally they own it as communities, not collectives. The rivers have a deep spiritual significance to them and are part of their identity.

The communities in San Marco have not been consulted in any way about what the project will entail – in a casual dismissal of international law. Put simply, the dam organisers do not value the campesinos’ opinions, their way of life, or even their existence. COPINH has fought countless battles against other dam projects. Countless times they have faced violence, intimidation and murder, with officials set to profit from projects paying off community members, private security guards and the military to do their dirty work. Hydroelectric dam projects in Honduras are as dirty and destructive as any other grand extractive undertaking in this most exploited of countries.

Information, Misinformation and Violence – The Local Realities of Hydroelectric Projects

I went to San Marco with 4 COPINH members – Selvín, Maryeli, María and Agostín – who were expected at a community meeting to discuss the damming project. We spent 2 nights in the community, in a beautiful and remote mountain setting as green as any movie rainforest setting. The day in the community was busy from dawn until dusk, my companions giving a string of presentations to inform the community of their experiences of dam projects elsewhere.

j2San Marco’s isolation puts information at a premium. TV is not available, but radio is, and among other stations COPINH’s community radio can be received in the mountains. COPINH has an important role in providing information that strengthens the community. They are especially vulnerable to promises and misinformation from the companies involved in the dam building, and several community members have already been contacted with promises of money. It is a common tactic across Latin America for companies concerned about potential resistance to their plans to buy out individuals in order to divide and weaken the autonomy of communities. The COPINH meeting was mainly aimed at bringing their experience of the reality of Honduran dam projects to prepare San Marco for such interference.

The meeting was well attended, with over a hundred people some of whom had walked for 4 hours to be there. Here the group are participating in a discussion of the ILO’s Convention 169 on Indigenous Rights, and what it means to them.Selvín and Maryeli talked about other dam projects in general, and then María spoke. She is from Rio Blanco where COPINH’s indigenous organising has recently stopped the Agua Zarca project – a success which gained COPINH’s general coordinator Berta Cáceres the Goldman International Environmental Prize. But Rio Blanco still faces violence from Agua Zarca’s vested interests. María has been attacked twice and threatened with death. She told me that she has machete scars on the top of her head from an attempt to kill her. Her right hand is bandaged with half a finger missing – brutally cut off in an assault just a few weeks ago which has forced her to go into hiding in La Esperanza.

I was also honoured to be asked by COPINH to speak to the meeting. In my clumsy Spanish I talked a little about the international context – about the ‘trickle down’ model of development and how it is used in my country to justify exploitative extractive projects in ‘developing’ countries, without actually producing any development. Thankfully though, I didn’t have to speak for long, and as everyone was dropping off we took that opportunity to walk the 30 minutes down to the river itself to swim and enjoy what San Marco was fighting for.

Rio San Juan is a beautiful and majestic site with great importance both physically and spiritually for the Lenca who live around it

Rio San Juan is a beautiful and majestic site with great importance both physically and spiritually for the Lenca who live around it

The day after the meeting, we travelled back to La Esperanza. That was a week ago, but this week COPINH received the appalling news of the murder of 2 people from the San Marco community that we stayed in, and the disappearance of another. As yet I haven’t heard anyone confirm what happened or why. But it seems unlikely to be a coincidence in such a small community that it happened at this time of conflict. The suspicion is that the dam companies and the municipal government that is in business with them have already found community members to coerce with money and promises, enough to use murder to break any opposition.

This is the model used throughout Honduras, including in Rio Blanco, and it seems this violence is never far away. It was a shock to hear that such a beautiful and seemingly peaceful place had been hit so brutally by violence. That is simply the shameful reality underneath the clean and prosperous promises of hydroelectric dam projects in Honduras.


James Watson 30th June 2015 Blog, Indigenous Struggles and Human Rights in Honduras

Listing of solar energy initiatives in Central America

A listing such as this is also given in ‘The Violence of Development’ book, but this website listing is marginally fuller in detail, although still only includes just a few of the many projects around the region.

In Honduras, the Nordic Development Fund has financially supported the installation of 253 solar panel energy systems in the same number of communities, mostly isolated from the national grid.[i]

In Guatemala in 2004, the NGO Fundación Solar (with financial collaboration from the UNDP, USAID and the GEF, amongst others) installed 180 photovoltaic (solar) systems in six rural communities in the department of Quiché.[ii]

Also in Guatemala, in 2010, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) began support for the 7-year development of a power grid to reach the country’s poorest regions where electricity is absent or limited, placing special emphasis on solar power and small-scale hydroelectricity plants.[iii]

In 2009, a group of 16 student volunteers from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) installed a small photovoltaic system on the densely populated island of Nusatupu in Kuna Yala (Kuna territory).[iv]

Also in Panama in 2006 and 2007, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funded Engineers for a Sustainable World at Northwestern University (ESW-NU) in collaboration with Panamanian NGO CEASPA (the Panamanian Centre for Social Studies and Action) to provide and install a series of six solar panels in the village of Santo Domingo, Colón province, to provide energy for electric fencing around the community’s livestock (as a deterrent to jaguar predation) and for the recharging of car batteries from which run all other electrical appliances in the village.[v]

Since 2007 the European Union has promoted a Euro Solar programme in Latin America’s eight poorest countries. In Nicaragua this is providing community photovoltaic electricity installations in around forty villages in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN). Each installed facility includes telecommunications and internet, a printer, projector, lighting for community installations, a refrigerator for medicines and vaccines, a battery charger and water purifier.[vi]

leonardo-dicaprio-2-150x150In Belize, having bought the island of Blackadore Caye in 2005 (for US$1.75 million in partnership with Jeff Gram, owner of the exclusive Cayo Espanto Resort), Leonardo DiCaprio has drawn up plans to turn it into a luxury resort based on sustainable design, using solar power, for instance, for the landing strip.[vii]

Throughout Central America, there are many small-scale solar powered oven schemes. The Central America Solar Energy Project for instance promotes solar cookers in Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua[viii], and numerous other NGOs support similar schemes to reduce firewood use and improve womens’ health.

One of the region’s largest solar power schemes (but still small by global standards) was put forward by the government of Japan (through JICA) which in 2011 offered the government of Belize a $20 million photovoltaic solar panel system built on just over 2 acres of the University of Belize’s land in the capital city Belmopan. The university will manage and maintain the project after construction is complete and will sell the electricity to Belize Electricity Limited, the country’s primary distributor of electricity.CIMG0577-2-300x199

In Costa Rica, the CNFL (National Power and Light Company) is financing a $1 million programme, installing two solar panels on each of 500 homes. The individual and household participants have no costs to cover, and actually receive a monthly fee for renting their roof, but the equipment belongs to CNFL. If the house uses more than 400 watts, the extra watts required come from conventional electricity sources. If the demand is lower than 400 watts, the excess goes to the national electricity distribution system.

The above listing represents only a small fraction of the small-scale solar power projects found within Central America, and it would be easy to conclude that such power provision must be the way forward for Central America. But even multiplying the few projects listed above by several hundreds would still only scratch the surface of the need for electricity around the region. It may indeed be the way forward for many remote and small rural villages, and there are those who would argue that it is the way forward for many urban and institutional uses too.


[i] Jorge F. Travieso (December 2010) ‘Evaluation of Solar Panel Energy Support: Honduras Case Study 2010’, Nordic Development Fund, Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
[ii] USAID (2006) ‘Solar Power Meets Rural Energy Needs in Guatemala’, USAID, Washington DC.
[iii] Renewable Energy Focus (15 June 2010) ‘Guatemala develops hydropower and solar energy grid’, Renewable Energy Focus, www.renewableenergyfocus.com/10237/guatemala-develops-hydropower-and-solar-energy-grid/ (accessed 22.07.11)
[iv] Global Patriot (29 March 2010) ‘UCSD Brigades Bring Sustainable Energy to Panama’, http://files.subtledream.com/GB/GEB%20UCSD%20Winter%202009%20Report.pdf (accessed 22.07.11).
[v] US Environmental Protection Agency (2007) ‘Final Report: Solar Photovoltaic System Design for a Remote Community in Panama’, http://cfpub.epa.gov/ncer_abstracts/index.cfm/fuseaction/display.abstractDetail/abstract/8104/report/F (accessed 22.07.11).
[vi] Nicaragua News (7 September 2010) ‘Forty-two RAAN communities to get solar power facilities’, Nicaragua Network.
[vii] Luxury Living Magazine (25 October 2009) ‘DiCaprio joins with Four Seasons at Blackadore Caye’, Luxury Living Magazine, www.luxurylivingint.com/blog/best-of-travel/dicaprio-joins-with-four-seasons-at-blackadore-caye/ (accessed 22.07.11).
[viii] Central America Solar Energy Project (CASEP) (Spring 2007) ‘The Solar Cooker’, Newsletter of the CASEP, http://www.solaroven.org/newsletter/casep%20newsletter%20(7).pdf (accessed 22.07.11).

Welcome to ADELA

The GROUP ADELA was born when people and organizations from diverse sectors of Limon became aware of the effects of the seismic reflection explorations performed by an oil company in November of 1999. ADELA has concerned itself with informing and educating the Caribbean community and the political sector about the risks that the petroleum activity carries with it for the Caribbean and Costa Rica, and in defending our model of sustainable development with the participation of the residents in the formulation of better energy practices and polícies . Currently it is promoting a pilot project of fuel based on biomass in the district of Talamanca and exercises its influence so that the country will formulate an energy policy based on reducing the consumption and making use of alternative technologies based on renewable sources.

ADELA is currently working on the planning and development of a pilot project of alternative energy based on biomass, in conjunction with a local organization and the Municipality. It seeks to utilize the agricultural waste products of bananas and plantains as raw material to produce biofuel.

1. A decision handed down by the of the Supreme Court held that the extrajudicial arbitration could not proceed as the Arbitration Board of the Center for Conciliation and Arbitration of the Costa Rican Chamber of Commerce “lacks jurisdiction to rule on any controversy arising between the parties as the matter is pending before the courts”, according to Vote No. 000744-C-06, of October 5, 2006.

2. The oil company Harken Costa Rica Holdings is demanding $13 million from Costa Rica in damages for the suspension of their contract to develop oil and gas along the Caribbean coast. They also seek to reactivate the contract in orderto resume activities in the Caribbean province of Limon. The company has filed claims for indemnization in an arbitration requested before the Chamber of Commerce and before the courts.

3. The oil company HARKEN CR in 2005 filed a judicial claim before the Administrative law Court in San José to vacate the resolution by MINAE to terminate the contract signed between the country of Costa Rica and Harken Costa Rica Holdings LLC. HARKEN insists on reactivating the same contract and collecting multi-million dollar damages from the country.

Members of the group ADELA are collaborating in the legal process with the legal assistance of Justice for Nature to support the Attorney General in defending our interests.

4. Harken is formally challenging before the Court the right to participation of local civil society in the process. In August 2006, the lower Court rejected Harken’s position and upheld the community participation in the lawsuit, affirming the right that these sectors have to be a part of legal processes that could affect their environment and their way of life. However, the company has appealed this procedural holding to a hirer court in order to exclude from the case all the community members and environmental organizations of ADELA that in the past have successfully opposed the oil concessions in the South Caribbean. They argue that the lawsuit concerns a subjectmatter which is solely technical in nature without any environmental consequences.

5. In the elections for Mayor of the Municipality of Talamanca, ADELA has brought the issue to the debates. We have been pressing for a continued Moratorium on Oil and on Dec. 3rd the winning candidate, Rugeli Morales declared his active support for ADELA and clearly denounced any petroleum or mining explorations in the Caribbean.

6. In Central America, indigenous communities in Belize have also won the right to demand an Environmental Impact Study from their government in their struggle to save their lands from US companies that are attempting to exploit petroleum within protected areas. Members of ADELA visited the ngo SATIIM in southern Belize to share experiences. For more information visit: www.globalresponse.org/ | http://www.satiim.org.bz/

7. Acción de Lucha Antipetrolera (ADELA) is once again seeking funds to cover the costs of this new phase of the campaign in Costa Rica, especially for the legal defense of our judicial collaboration. You can make donations to our account at the Banco Nacional de Costa Rica:

“Asoc. Justicia para la Naturaleza”
CUENTA CORRIENTE EN DOLARES
# 605479-5
Sucursal – SAN JOSE

MORE INFORMATION adela@grupoadela.org