Sinaí Casillas
Renewable Energies Coordinator
State of Oaxaca

Wind Potential Still Underdeveloped in Oaxaca

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 10:26

Already known for its beautiful beaches, exquisite food, ancient traditions and wide biodiversity, Oaxaca is also a big name in sustainable energy. In the last six years, the state went from having seven wind farms to 22. But there is one hurdle keeping Oaxaca from capitalizing on its wind resources: the lack of appropriate infrastructure.

“The Energy Reform generated big expectations in the state that were not fulfilled,” says Sinaí Casillas, Renewable Energy Director at the Government of Oaxaca. “The problem is not the Reform itself but the lack of accompanying infrastructure to support it. While on paper there are many infrastructure projects to be built, most have been delayed. For instance, the Xipe substation with 400,000V transmission lines was expected to be ready in 2013 but it was delayed to 2017. This caused a delay in the projects of our first open season, an initiative to kick start wind energy projects in the Tehuantepec Isthmus. The state expected this open season to deploy 3.3GW of wind projects but to this date only 2.3GW have been built.”

Oaxaca has a little over 1,600 wind turbines generating approximately 2.3GW. These are spread over 22 wind farms in six regions: Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Juchitan, El Espinal, Ixtepec, Santo Domingo Ingenio and Unión Hidalgo.

“Oaxaca is a leader in wind energy,” Casillas adds. “The state has the largest potential for wind development in Mexico. The Isthmus of Tehuantepec, for instance, has 10GW potential, of which only 23 percent is being used.” The new HVDC line that will connect Oaxaca with the Valley of Mexico – the first in the country to use this technology – will provide more space for the state’s wind resources to be harnessed and transmitted to high-demand regions. The project will also be the first to be developed under the new private participation schemes opened by the Reform, which adds certainty to its due date. It will have a capacity of 3GW.

Casillas believes that further projects will fall in line once the initial challenges have been addressed. “We believe the reform will open the market to several projects that will strengthen the value chain of the sector,” he says. “We see significant opportunities for new projects to be built in our wind corridor. In fact, there is a second open season coming for approximately 2.3GW.”

To take advantage of the state’s abundant natural resources, Casillas also highlights the importance of involving local communities in the development process and ensuring new projects bring added value to the local inhabitants. Some wind projects in the state became infamous when they were cancelled due to social issues but the industry has learned its lesson, acknowledging the relevance of bringing communities on board from the early development stages.

Casillas says the ‘Luz en Casa Oaxaca’ program, a joint initiative between Oaxaca’s government, ACCIONA Energía, a Spanish project developer with strong expertise in wind farm construction, and the Spanish Agency of International Cooperation for Development (AECID), is a flagship case. The program installed solar panels in isolated communities that were not connected to the national grid. The cost of the PV solar systems is shared equally by the government and the end user, while the operational costs and maintenance is provided by ACCIONA Energía and AECID. During the past three years, the program has provided electricity to around 7,500 households.

That initiative's success prompted the state to support a second project with Ilumexico Foundation, which covered a further 3,000 households. The two programs jointly helped it to increase its electrification rate by 1.3 percentage points, a significant improvement considering that Oaxaca is almost 4 percentage points below Mexico’s average electrification rate, currently set at 98 percent. One reason for Oaxaca’s lag is the dispersion of its population. There are 1,000 communities constituted by only three or four households, for instance. Distributed renewable energy generation might be the key to bringing light to off-grid communities.

The state government is clear: With the proper infrastructure in place Oaxaca can supply end users in the country’s highdemand regions with the electricity they need but only if its inhabitants can enjoy the same benefits.