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Wind Energy Promoted in Central America
By Néfer Muñoz

With a 66-megawatt production available, Costa Rica is the leading Latin American wind energy producer.

SAN JOSE, (Tierramérica).- If Central America were to take full advantage of wind energy, the region could supply enough electricity for 12 million people -- a third of the local population -- at a lower cost than fossil fuels and without their polluting effects, says a new study to which Tierramérica had access.

Costa Rica is currently the only country of the isthmus with "wind parks" connected to the electrical energy network. Four percent of the country's electricity is generated by the wind.

The three wind parks, three privately and one publicly owned, hold a potential to produce 66 megawatts, the most in Latin America, with Argentina's wind energy potential standing at 14 megawatts and Brazil's at 20, says the report by the non-governmental Biomass Users Network-Central America (BUN-CA).

One megawatt is enough to supply electricity to a community of 20,000 people. Central America could produce as much as 600 megawatts using the output from windmills, or enough to meet the electricity needs of 12 million people, says BUN-CA.

There are 24 wind energy projects in the pre-investment phase, scattered among Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama, according to the wind energy manual that the organization is to publish shortly as part of a series aimed at studying the outlook and current development status of renewable energies in Central America.

It is already possible to produce wind energy at a cost of just three to five cents on the dollar per kilowatt-hour, says BUN-CA.

Hydroelectric energy has similar monetary costs: five cents on the dollar per kilowatt hour, while electricity coming out of coal, diesel or natural gas fired energy plants reaches 10 cents, Enrique Morales, director of the state-run wind park -- Costa Rica's largest -- told Tierramérica.

"Wind energy in Central America has a great future," says BUN-CA director, engineer José María Blanco.

The region is influenced by the Trade Winds system, which is relatively constant in speed and direction, blowing in both the northern and southern hemispheres from 30 degrees latitude towards the Equator.

The windmills require a minimum wind speed of 3.5 to 6.0 meters per second. In some parts of Central America the annual average speed reaches 12 meters per second.

"The advantage is that it is a clean energy source" that in the long term will be very competitive, says wind park director Morales. The non-renewable energy sources will eventually face legal and tax barriers due to the greenhouse gases they produce, he explains.

Today, nearly 10 million Central Americans -- nearly one in three of the region's residents -- lack access to electrical services.

* Néfer Muñoz is an IPS correspondent.

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