Despite our efforts to point out that Costa Rica is not as environmentally friendly or as labour friendly as its legislation would suggest, the Costa Rican government is clearly making some real attempts to move towards its pledge to decarbonise the country. The country’s transport system is heavily dependent on fossil fuels, so meeting this goal will not be an easy task, but the following summary indicates some important first steps made towards the goal.
By Martin Mowforth
In November 2019, the Ministry of Planning and Economic Policy together with the Costa Rican Railroad Institute (ICF by its Spanish initials) initiated a feasibility study into the reconstruction of 131 km of railroad between the central province of Alajuela and the Pacific Central province of Puntarenas. Such a rail line could be used to transport passengers and freight.
$550,000 (USD) have been invested in the initiative. Elizabeth Briceño, President of ICF, said: “We are sure that this will contribute to the economic reactivation of the zone and will generate employment.” The funds will be used for the pre-feasibility and feasibility studies, market analyses, risk analysis, environmental studies, and design, administrative and budget evaluations.
The studies are expected to take seven months. The Planning Minister, Pilar Garrido, linked the project entitled ‘Railroad Reactivation to the Pacific’ with other possible rail initiatives such as the ‘Limón Electrified Freight Train (Caribbean Zone)’ with the aim of connecting by rail six of the country’s seven provinces.
The IONIQ model of electric cars has a range of 375 km from one single battery charge which takes up to 54 minutes. In Costa Rica, the model has been marketed for two years and 400 sales have already been achieved. This is a level of acceptance which Jerry Campos, regional manager of Hyundai, says is greater than expectations.
By the end of 2019 Costa Rica had 34 fast charging points for electric cars in operation. They are part of a network of charging stations (called ‘electrolineras’) that the government plans to expand in future years.
Of course we need to remember that not everything about electric vehicles is environmentally friendly or even socially friendly. Nevertheless, it can be said that if Costa Rica manages to change its fleet of vehicles from petrol to electric over the course of the next decade, then there is little doubt that it will be further along the path of phasing out fossil fuels than most other countries in the world. But that’s a big ‘if’.
In February this year, El Salvador also introduced its first completely electric car to the public, again with plans for later expansion. It is being marketed there by Grupo Q which is hoping to sell five units within two months of its introduction. Currently there is only one charging point in El Salvador. At the price of $39,800 (USD) the car is unfortunately out of the range of the vast majority of the country’s population.
More recently (March 2020) the government of Costa Rica has announced a pilot plan to introduce electric buses as one aspect of their plan to decarbonise the country’s economy. Three autobuses have been donated to Costa Rica by the German Cooperation Agency GTZ, and the Costa Rican government has extended the scheme to include a total of 15 electric buses by the end of this year.
Currently the idea is that they will be tested out in different parts of the country, and data will be collected on their serviceability, their usage and their profitability. The eventual aim is to turn the whole public transport fleet in the country over to electric buses. Claudia Dobles, the First Lady of the country, said: “This is a clear signal that the sector wants to modernise and provide an improved service to its users.”
The pilot plan requires the Costa Rican Institute of Electricity to provide the necessary accompanying technical electrical infrastructure. Additionally, the National Learning Institute is to provide training for drivers and mechanics; and a special tariff will be charged for electric bus users.
A group of transport businesses are involved in the plan and each participating business is expected to purchase at least one of the 12 new buses. The transport businesses have been pressuring the government to promote policies for the implementation of bus-only lanes and favourable financial credit lines for green initiatives such as bus renewals and operating costs.
The National Decarbonisation Plan presented by President Carlos Alvarado’s government in February 2019 envisages the elimination of the use of fossil fuels in Costa Rica by the year 2050.