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’, _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’, (accessed 08.07.11).
[3] Daniel Zueras (12 July 2011) ‘Costa Rica Invests in Geothermal Power Generation’, Tierramérica, (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.