In 2008, a significant decrease in oil production caused petroleum-dependent Mexico to seriously consider alternative fuel options. The most appealing alternative was wind. The Isthmus of Tehuantepec provided an extremely interesting opportunity for wind power. The isthmus, which is part of the state of Oaxaca, sits between both the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. This stretch of land produces winds of ideal speeds, between 15-22 miles per hour, for wind turbines. The wind is so notorious that the main town in the area is named La Ventosa or “Windy”.
Just one year later in 2009, the $550 million project on 6,180 acres with 167 turbines was inaugurated by President Felipe Calderon. At the inauguration, the frustrations of the locals were evident. Hundreds of natives stood in protest of the project. While 850 jobs were created as a result of the construction, critics argued that natives would not see any benefits from the wind farms. Foreign companies rented the land, built the turbines and the used the produced power.
Fast forward four years and Mexico has one of highest growth rates in wind power. There are currently 17 Mexican wind farms. Of these farms, 76.4% reside in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. The production has exceeded expectations. In 2009, it was believed that the series of wind projects would generate 2,500 megawatts of electricity by 2012. However, 2012 only reached 1,350 megawatts instead of the expected 2,500 MW. Despite missing the expected numbers, the year 2012 alone increased capacity by 140% from the previous year. The Mexican Wind Energy Association reported after the January 2013 meeting that there was an expected growth of wind power by 2 gigawatts by the end of this year and the potential to develop 12 gigawatts by 2020.
Despite the productivity and promising future of the wind farms, the concerns of the native people have grown. The natural disturbances and growing tensions between communities has grown to a head.
“The largely indigenous residents of the Isthmus complain that the wind farms take control of their land, affect fish and livestock with their vibrations, chop up birds and pit residents against each other for the damage or royalty payments. They also claim they see few of the profits from such projects.”
Wind power has been a solution to decrease Mexico’s dependency on oil and strive toward Calderon’s administration’s goal to reduce carbon emissions by 30% by 2020. But the negative impact on the natives begs the question if there is another solution. However, President Calderon believes that these wind farms are providing the needed solution, “…you can fight poverty and protect the environment at the same time. This is a clear example.”