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Sunday, August 15, 2010

PEOPLE & VOICES - Baja to Harness the Power of Wind


By Karri Moser

Mexico is quickly breaking ground and moving forward to join others in the pursuit of clean energy. Wind energy is fast becoming the optimal way to produce clean and green electricity. The much anticipated Aubanel Wind Project is set to be constructed near La Rumorosa, which will put the wind farm just 15 miles south of the border and 60 miles east of San Diego. This proximity of this wind energy farm to the United States naturally means the project will eventually provide cross border energy. The sheer magnitude and potential energy-producing capability of the Aubanel Wind Project will make it one of North America’s largest wind farms.

Currently, the United States, Germany and Spain are the top three producers of wind energy. Mexico could very well join the top fifteen producers thanks to the efforts of two international corporations, Cannon Power Group and Gamesa, along with the support of President Felipe Calderon. Gamesa Technology Corporation, a Spain-based corporation, and Cannon Power Group are both internationally known for their expertise in the construction and maintenance of wind energy farms. Both companies have entered into a 10 year agreement to build and operate the Aubanel Wind Project.

Before Calderon took office, there were no wind energy farms in Mexico. Recent changes in regulations have made wind energy projects in Mexico more feasible for outside companies. His administration has made incredible strides in making Mexico the most advanced country in Latin America when it comes to green energy such as wind farms. This distinction will do more than make Mexico a leader in clean energy; it will also stimulate the local economy by drawing in major investors and boosting confidence in the private sector.

Ground breaking to begin the actual construction and production of energy is slated to begin any time during the next twelve months. The wind farm will encompass 140 square miles. The initial stage of the project will produce anywhere from 70 fto 100 megawatts of electricity. The power generated during this phase will serve Mexican customers. Over the next three to four years, the project will be complete and produce an estimated 1,000 megawatts of electricity. With one megawatt being capable of providing electricity to 250 homes, the fully constructed wind farm will have the ability to supply approximately 250,000 homes with all of their energy needs.

The second phase will allow for enough energy production to export electricity to California. Baja is noted as being the perfect site for the project as it records more wind than all of California. John Prock, Cannon Power Group spokesperson for the Baja project says, “The wind resource is exceptional for the area. Where the desert meets the mountains makes for good wind flow.” The temperature of the desert floor, cooling patterns and Pacific Ocean currents together create a vacuum of sorts which make area winds extremely consistent. He also adds that while wind is a variable resource, winds that measure 18 miles per hour at least 35% of the time are ideal.

Cannon Power Group is the lead developer of the project and has over 30 wind energy projects all across the world, providing upwards of 3,000 megawatts of wind energy worldwide. They produce energy in the U.S., Switzerland, India, Spain, Croatia, Greece, Italy and Turkey. The San Diego-based company has over 30 years of experience and repeatedly sees how wind energy farms in rural communities pump up the local economy through both temporary and long-term job creation. As for economic impact on the area, Prock says, “The majority of infrastructure, maintenance, and on site work will be done by Mexican forces.”

The Cannon Power Group has spent 15 years in the development and measurement phase of the Baja project. Since President Calderon and the Mexican Congress have initiated new laws encouraging the development of clean energy for Mexico, Cannon has been able to begin the permitting phase and environmental impact studies needed to get the plans up and running.

Gamesa will exclusively provide all of the turbines that Cannon Power Group will use in Baja. Gamesa Technology Corporation currently employs 6,300 people in its facilities in the U.S., Europe, China and India. They will be responsible for building and assembling the turbines for the Aubanel Wind Project. Their two manufacturing facilities in Pennsylvania are constructing the turbines that will be used in Baja. The turbines designed, constructed and maintained by Gamesa generate 18,000 megawatts of power across the world. They proudly estimate that their turbines provide clean energy to offset what would amount to 27 million tons of carbon dioxide waste per year.

Gamesa is also equally proud of the effect their technology has on the local communities and economy. They have made incredible technological advances to further the capability of wind energy and also stimulate local economic growth in the process. Gamesa North America CEO Dirk Matthys says, "Gamesa is proud to be the first wind turbine manufacturer to install utility class wind turbines in Mexico and has over 200 megawatts of installed generation there to date. Each 50 megawatt wind farm brings a positive socio-economic benefit to the region by providing clean energy and also by generating about $15 to $20 million to the local economy through the use of local companies to build new roads and supply construction materials, storage and other services. In addition, each 50 megawatt wind farm creates about 75 to 100 temporary jobs and about 15 permanent positions.”

Wind energy and wind farms in Baja will do more than increase local infrastructure and create construction employment opportunities. It is estimated that wind and solar energy facilities will soon be a main source of manufacturing jobs worldwide. As the technology advances, our dependence on fossil fuels diminishes also. Wind energy is natural, clean and a free renewable resource. There simply is no waste, no drilling, no mining, and no transportation costs. Once start-up costs are covered, wind energy is simply the cheapest to maintain. The Mexican government and investors alike see the Aubanel project as a win-win for both the communities of Baja who will benefit economically and energy-wise and the U.S. which will increase its percentage of clean energy usage due to the proximity of the wind farms to the border.

Wind energy in general has been used throughout history and dates back to the windmills of Babylon in 2000 BC. The technology has advanced enough over the last few decades to also dispel any myths and unwarranted hesitation about its usage. The noise produced by the massive turbines conforms to noise emission codes and does not reach the levels that some fear. Wind farm turbines also help rural communities preserve their natural landscape much more than mines or drilling sites do. There is not any waste, smog, or greenhouse gas issues to account for either. Overall, wind energy and its benefits for Baja will put the area in the forefront of the global movement toward clean energy while preserving the area’s natural beauty and appeal.