Earlier this month, Worldwatch researchers visited the Los Cocos and Quilvio Cabrera wind farms, adjacent to each other on the border between Barahona and Pedernales provinces in the southwestern corner of the Dominican Republic. These installations, operated by power company EGE Haina, are expected to come online this August. They will represent the first utility-scale wind projects in the Dominican Republic. As with most ventures that are the first of their kind, Los Cocos and Quilvio Cabrera offer valuable lessons for future wind development in the Caribbean.
The Los Cocos wind farm consists of 14 Vestas V90 turbines, each with an installed capacity of 1.8 megawatts (MW). Quilvio Cabrera holds 5 Vestas V82 turbines, each with an installed capacity of 1.65 MW. All told, the two farms will have a combined installed capacity of 33.5 MW. Based on seven years of data collection on site, the capacity factor of the facilities is anticipated to be 33 percent, which means that they will produce an average of around 11 MW, or just under 100 Gigawatt-hours per year (not accounting for downtime due to maintenance). The Los Cocos project alone is expected to avoid the emission of 125 thousand metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions from over 20,000 passenger vehicles in the U.S.
EGE Haina began investigating the viability of the site in 2002, and spent years obtaining all the necessary permits and approvals. Unlike many renewables projects, EGE Haina was not looking to sign a new contract, or power purchase agreement (PPA), in this case with the Corporación Dominicana de Empresas Eléctricas Esatales (CDEEE), to deliver the energy generated by the wind farms to the national grid. The wind projects will be used to fulfill part of EGE Haina’s obligations under an existing 300 MW PPA with CDEEE, because EGE Haina believes doing so will reduce the cost of fulfilling these obligations relative to relying only on their existing fleet of conventional generation facilities. In addition, EGE Haina did not need to seek financing as most project developers would. With the exception of a bond issue, Los Cocos and Quilvio Cabrera were financed internally.
During the construction process, EGE Haina has faced two particular challenges that some might not initially expect for a wind farm. First, EGE Haina was responsible for connecting the wind farm to the existing grid. The southwestern part of the Dominican Republic is sparsely populated, however, and there are no transmission lines in the vicinity of Los Cocos. EGE Haina built a substation on location and had to run 54 kilometers of new transmission lines to reach the closest switch yard, located in Cruce de Cabral, Barahona.
Not only did building these transmission lines and substation entail great expense, but it has also proven to be the source of delays. In fact, it is the major factor holding back the beginning of the plants’ operation, with all other aspects of the construction and testing process nearly complete. EGE Haina staff explained that this is mostly due to the fact that the company is forced to deal with many individual landowners over the length of the new transmission lines. Some have posed greater problems than others, and some land permits are still pending. Siting installations far from existing infrastructure clearly presents issues beyond just the cost of connecting to the grid.
EGE Haina has had to work hard to win over local farmers and residents of nearby towns as well. All of the land on which Los Cocos and Quilvio Cabrera are located belongs to the Dominican Agrarian Reform Institute (IAD), which is responsible for distributing land to small farmers, and EGE Haina therefore pays rent to many individuals. The farmers who work the surrounding fields are generally happy with EGE Haina because the wind farms’ guards provide security for their fields and the company has improved the roads in the area. Other locals are wary, however. Some were worried that the wind farm would actually result in less electricity being available to local consumers, because connection to the national grid would mean that all power generated would be taken out of the area. Plenty were also simply mistrustful of an unfamiliar technology or opposed to giving away local farmland.
EGE Haina has responded both by working to educate locals about wind power and its project and by investing in local communities. The company paid to install solar panels on a local school, worked with fishermen to teach them about proper maintenance of their fish stocks, and installed lights on an outdoor basketball court. It is also looking into building a community center and helping with possible development of ecotourism infrastructure in the area. Perhaps most importantly, EGE Haina is also discussing the possibility of diverting some of the energy generated by the wind farm directly to the local distribution network so that it can help increase the availability of power locally. For most local consumers, the availability of electricity is currently sporadic and unpredictable.
EGE Haina is already planning a second phase of the Los Cocos project, which will add an additional 75 MW of capacity. It seems that their experience thus far has not deterred them from continuing to develop wind power projects. Once Los Cocos and Quilvio Cabrera become operational, advocates for wind power and other renewables in the Caribbean can only hope that they are successful enough to encourage other companies to follow suit.