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Local opposition to wind energy projects in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec 

Author:  | Economics, Environment, Human rights, Mexico, Wildlife

Wind farm corridor in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec

Wind power is the world’s fastest growing renewable energy regarding to the installed capacity of 159 Gigawatts in 2010 (Ren 21, 2010). Wind power is generally considered a clean energy because it reduces greenhouse gas emissions. However, wind power generation has several negative impacts on the environment, health and society. Because of these impacts, wind energy faces a growing opposition, especially from communities and non-governmental organizations in some countries where wind turbines are used. In this regard, this article describes the case of the large scale wind farms in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.

The Isthmus of Tehuantepec is located in Oaxaca, Mexico, and it possesses one of the best wind resources in the world. Oaxaca’s wind energy potential is estimated at least 500 megawatts (MW), due to its particular topography. In this area, inhabited mainly by indigenous and peasant communities, large scale wind farms are being built in ejido and community lands by transnational corporations, in particular Spanish companies such as Iberdrola, Acciona, Endesa and Gamesa, in order to strengthen the process of energy integration in Centroamerica and sell electricity to private companies through carbon emissions trading.

Most of the wind farms in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec are projects supported by the World Bank and the Interamerican Development Bank in order to encourage the private sector participation in the wind electricity generation and to avoid the mexican government intervention in the power sector. It implies a violation of article 27 of the Mexican Constitution which defines the exclusive function of the State to supply electric power. In fact, a large amount of the electricity generated from wind power is used for private sector activities and not for national needs. Therefore, the wind power generation is a matter of national sovereignty.

Social impacts

The large scale wind farms construction requires to turn the use of rural land into industrial; for this reason, wind companies are signing individual land lease agreements with land owners. However, some indigenous and peasant communities reject wind energy projects because land lease contracts have been signed without public consultation and reliable information about the restrictions on farming activities once wind farms are in operation (Oceransky, 2009).

Furthermore, land lease contracts offers a minimum annual rent payment per hectare to land owners. These are the main reasons why groups such as Grupo Solidario La Venta, Asamblea en Defensa de la Tierra y el Territorio de Juchitán, Centro de Derechos Humanos Tepeyac, Unión de Comunidades Indígenas de la Zona Norte del Istmo, among others, do not support wind farms. They demand from the mexican government the nullity of land lease contracts, to remove wind farms, guarantee indigenous people’s rights, and to promote community ownership of the wind farms. However, the mexican government hinder communities access to swift and impartial justice, use violence and intimidating tactics, and support the construction and expansion of the wind farms. This has developed into a conflict between communities, the mexican government and the wind companies.

Environmental impacts

Besides changes in land use and property rights, environmental impacts of wind energy projects lead to conflict because they affects communities ancestral territories and natural resources necessary for their cultural identity. In relation to this point, some of the major concerns are:

  1. Contamination of water and soil due to the construction of wind farm infrastructure and associate structure. This may affect farming, which is the community´s main source of income.
  2. Degradation of visual resources in the region and its surroundings because of the expansion of large scale wind farms. All of this implies several changes in the cultural perceptions of scenic and heritages landscapes.
  3. Health problems on nearby inhabitants and organisms as a consequence of mechanic and aerodynamic noise from wind turbines.
  4. Collision risk of birds with large wind turbines in operation. This is so because wind farms are located in one of the most important migration corridor in Mesoamerica.
  5. Environmental impacts of wind farms through their life cycle, in particular those related to waste management and removal of wind energy facilities, among others.

Social and environmental feasibility

When dealing with the issue of wind energy projects, social and environmental feasibility is because it must be focus on local communities and their participation for decision making in order to ensure a more equitable distribution of benefits of wind energy projects and access to wind energy generated electricity service. In this sense, it is necessary to protect indigenous people’s rights over their land, natural resources and institutions, and support mixed or collective ownerships of wind farms and decentralized wind power generation that incorporates social and environmental justice principles.

This material is the work of the author(s) indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

The copyright of this material resides with the author(s). As part of its noncommercial educational effort to present the environmental, social, scientific, and economic issues of large-scale wind power development to a global audience seeking such information, National Wind Watch endeavors to observe “fair use” as provided for in section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law and similar “fair dealing” provisions of the copyright laws of other nations. Queries e-mail.

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