the winds of change

Quietly, and without a lot of fuss and fanfare, Nicaragua is on the verge of a remarkable energy turnaround. This blog has detailed in the past one of the major achievements of the last Sandinista administration, the solving of the energy crisis within 12 months of taking power in 2007. Before this, powercuts had become a part of daily life. If it created uncertainty for big business, it almost wiped out small businesses, many of whom provided food and drink for Nicaragua’s population. Many saw their livelihoods literally melt away, as the cuts made what meagre refrigeration systems they had worse than useless.

Now Nicaragua is poised on the edge of another energy revolution. In a recent interview with Tim Rogers in the Nicaragua Dispatch (no cheerleader for the FSLN administration) Paul Oquist outlined Nicaragua’s plans to break the link with oil for electricity production ( see here). Nicaragua currently relies on oil for 70% of its electricity production. This will shrink to just 6% in five years time, with the renovating of its geothermal plants, the continued installation of wind generation, and the building of several large hydro-electric projects.

Last year several large windfarms went on-line. Nicaragua also connected it’s first existing geo-thermal plant to the grid (35MW), and is threatening to nationalise the second Nicaraguan geo-thermal plant, which can produce another 35MW, but is only producing 5MW, the result of mis-management and under-investment by a private company. A whole series of hydro projects have been anounced with international backing, including the Tumarin scheme (250MW, half the country’s electicity requirements), supported by Brazil and due to come on line in 2016.

Most of the hydro projects will need to be scrutinised carefully. Environmentalists have already lodged objections to some of the schemes, citing their impact on the water courses and the nature reserves which fall within the areas due to be flooded when the dams are built.

Nonetheless, taken with the Sandinistas progress on bringing electricity to some of the remotest rural communuities over the past five years, it represents a remarkable turnaround for Nicaragua.

Next month the Campaign hopes to interview Paul Oquist, special advisor to the President and leader of the Nicaraguan delegation in the climate change talks in Durban in December.



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