Winds of Hope for Alternative Energy
By Marcela Valente
The winds seem to be blowing in favor of alternative energy in Argentina, a country that, despite holding great potential for developing clean and increasingly competitive technology, has resisted doing so.
BUENOS AIRES, (Tierramérica).- The Enarsa Group, made up of the Spanish firms Endesa and Elecnor, announced in February that they will begin a first phase in June of a 2.25-billion-dollar, 10-year investment plan for building ''wind parks'' in the southern region of Patagonia, where wind forces are double the European average.
The wind parks are to be created in the provinces of Chubut, Neuquén and Río Negro, with an output of 3,000 megawatt hours by 2010. The current energy production capacity of Argentina is 15,000 megawatt hours from conventional sources.
Spain, Germany and the United States are leading the way in the use of wind technology. In Spain, wind-generated energy makes up more than 12 percent of the country's total electrical production.
Argentina, with its naturally favorable conditions - though lacking government aid -, is third in Latin America as far as producing this renewable energy, after Costa Rica and Brazil, two countries with fewer initial advantages but greater public sector support.
''Argentina's potential as far as wind energy surpasses the total consumption of this country of 37 million people,'' affirms Juan Carlos Villalonga, head of the energy campaign at the local office of Greenpeace, the international environmental watchdog.
Villalonga has worked since the mid-1990s to convince the Argentine business community and government that the utilization of wind technology does not require venture capital because this natural resource is top quality and production costs are on the decline.
Wind energy production, which grew more than 20 percent a year on average, was one of the top three rapid-growth economic activities of the 1990s, pointed out the Greenpeace representative. The others were the cellular phone and Internet industries.
Nevertheless, Villalonga expressed caution with respect to wind endeavors in Patagonia in the short term because the economic problems affecting the country in recent months are not doing much to appease foreign investors.
A program that Greenpeace presented three years ago seems to be tailor-made for the Spanish investment plan. The environmental organization first of all requested a national law to stimulate investment in wind energy, then provincial legislation in line with federal regulations, and lastly the connection of the national electrical system with the circuit of wind energy production that is already operating in the Patagonian provinces.
A law of national scope was passed in 1998 and enacted in February of this year.
The electricity network of the south is isolated and, as such, boosting supply would not be profitable for investors until it is incorporated into the national distribution network, which is fed by conventional sources, like natural gas-generated or hydroelectric plants.
The wind energy produced today is destined only for Patagonian cities, meeting 12 to 50 percent of the demand.
Given this situation, Greenpeace celebrated the official decision to enact the wind law, which was followed in March by a key announcement. Argentine President Fernando de la Rúa promised the southern provinces that the hoped-for connection with the national system will take place soon.
''The costs of solar energy are still high, but those of wind energy are close to the costs of natural gas-produced electricity. The business community now has the word,'' concluded Villalonga.
* Marcela Valente is an IPS correspondent.