After an oil spill threatened the coast of the Galapagos Islands in 2001, Ecuador and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) launched an effort to make the archipelago a showcase for renewable energy development.
Thanks to major funding and direction from American Electric Power (AEP), the San Cristobal Wind Project now is helping to preserve the biodiversity of this exceptionally rich ecosystem. It is also creating a model for the global promotion of small-scale renewable energy power generation and distribution systems in remote areas.
San Cristobal Island is one of 13 major islands that comprise the Galapagos archipelago, an Ecuadorian province 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean. The island was relying entirely on diesel fuel to generate electricity for its 25,000 residents. In January 2001, a tanker carrying fuel and diesel oil for the generators ran aground, spilling over 140,000 gallons of oil.
Following the accident, the UNDP conducted a feasibility study to determine the potential for renewable energy replacing the diesel generators. American Electric Power led the wind energy project on behalf of the “e8”—a subset of the “G8”—representing 10 leading electricity companies from eight major industrialized nations. The e8 members play an active role in addressing global electricity issues and promoting sustainable development worldwide.
The San Cristobal Wind Project is the first large-scale wind development endeavor in Ecuador and one of the largest wind-diesel hybrid systems in the world. The 2.4-megawatt (MW) project comprises three 800-kilowatt (kW) wind turbines. During the project's first year of operation, wind generated roughly 30 percent of the total energy delivered, with a low of 6.2 percent during April, and a high of 53.5 percent in September.
Total wind energy delivered during the operation period was 2,543 MWh, which avoided the equivalent of 2,034 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
In addition to the three wind turbines, the facility includes two 6-kW solar photovoltaic systems. Three, 650-kW diesel generators provide backup power for the renewable energy systems. The wind turbines and solar panels are the first stage of an umbrella program that will eventually make the Galapagos Islands l00 percent petroleum free by 2015.
The project's innovative financing included funding from the UN Foundation, UNDP, Ecuadorian taxpayer-directed (check-off) donations, the government of Ecuador and the e8 companies. The largest contributions came from Ecuador, which provided more than 30 percent of the project's funding, and AEP, which provided nearly half of the project's approximately $10 million cost.
Energy invoices under the power purchase agreement have been regularly paid by a single client, Elecgalapagos. Despite lower-than-expected generation due to wind conditions, the payments cover the project's operating budget. The rate that end users will pay is regulated by the country’s electricity council and will not be affected by the start-up of this plant.
One non-energy related hurdle that the project had to overcome was taking special care to protect a critically endangered species of birds, the Galapagos petrel. The project management team took special care to follow all recommendations of the environmental management plan, such as controlling adverse invasive species and predators, burying the first 3 kilometers of power lines leaving the turbines to minimize the possibility of collision, and conducting long-term monitoring of the birds' well-being.
The San Cristobal Wind Project also has special significance in addressing the global climate change issue. Since its initiation, the San Cristobal Wind Project was planned as a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) project under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The CDM was initiated under the Kyoto Protocol to unite the dual goals of assisting developing countries in achieving sustainable development, while supporting industrialized countries in achieving compliance with their greenhouse gas reduction commitments. The San Cristobal Wind Project is now recognized as a private-public partnership model for other nations and project developers to follow for the advancement of renewable energy development worldwide.
Finally, the San Cristobal Wind Project has won an Energy Globe Award Ecuador in its “Fire” category for innovative energy efficiency and alternative energy sources. The project has also been nominated to compete among some 800 projects and initiatives from all over the world for the 2009 World ENERGY GLOBE Award for Fire.
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