To celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Galapagos’ Islands discovery, Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa Monday launched a program to end the use of fossil fuels on the Galapagos by 2015.
The initiative is led by the San Cristobal Wind Project, which erected three wind turbines near the town of El Progresso on San Cristobal Island.
The wind farm is on the island that suffered the worst oil spill in the history of the Galapagos – the spill resulting from the grounding of the tanker “Jessica” at the entrance to the harbor at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on January 16, 2001.
The turbines are generating 2.4 megawatts of power, enough to halve the island’s diesel fuel imports and pave the way for further renewable energy development to supply the 30,000 residents of the Galapagos archipelago’s five inhabited islands.
The turbines started supplying power to San Cristobal last October. Project partners will formally dedicate the wind turbines at a celebration in the Galapagos on March 18.
The system will meet 60 to 80 percent of electrical demand during the windy months of October, November and December.
The San Cristobal Wind Project is an international partnership between the government of Ecuador, the United Nations Development Program and nine of the world’s largest electricity companies from G8 countries – known as the e8.
The project’s primary objectives are to reduce the risk of oil spills associated with the transport and delivery of fuel to the island; reduce air pollution and greenhouse gases caused by burning fossil fuels; and contribute to the protection of the region’s unique biodiversity.
On a larger scale, the project is an example of multilateral collaboration for climate change mitigation and a showcase for the global promotion of small-scale renewable energy power generation and distribution systems in remote areas.
Lead company in the project’s development, funding and implementation was American Electric Power, which provided about half of the $10.8 million funding.
Some $3.2 million was provided by the government of Ecuador and $1 million from the United Nations Foundation, coupled with contributions from the UNDP and other sources. A trust has been established to facilitate ongoing training, maintenance and operation of the wind farm and its eventual removal.
“From day one, the overriding concern was the need to protect this invaluable place and its incredible biodiversity,” says American Electric Power chief executive Michael Morris.
“The e8 team approached this work with a level of caution akin to the curators responsible for da Vinci’s Mona Lisa or Michelangelo’s David,” he said.
AEP project team leader Paul Loeffelman says the lengthy feasibility study undertaken to address institutional, financial and environmental questions resulted from of monitoring and studies of the Galapagos petrel, a sea bird that nests on several of the islands.
One of the six endemic marine birds of the Galapagos archipelago, the long-winged Galapagos petrel is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN-World Conservation Union.
The petrel nests in burrows where its eggs and chicks are preyed upon by rats and cats, non-native species brought to the islands aboard pirate ships and other vessels.
In recent decades, the petrel population has been threatened by agricultural expansion and the increase in predators and other invasive species that crowd out plants supporting the petrel, particularly the endangered endemic plant miconia.
Another e8 member, Hydro Quebec, coordinated the Environmental Impact Assessment and related bird monitoring activities in collaboration with Scottish Power.
Early in the extensive environmental investigation, the e8 project team found that the site first proposed for the three wind turbines, San Joaquin, had active petrel nests as well as miconia.
The turbine site was changed to the hill known as El Tropezón, an agricultural area with no petrel nests and few miconia plants.
Because petrels spend the daylight hours fishing at sea and return to the island at night, little was known about their flight paths. The e8 team undertook studies to find out if the petrel flew near the proposed wind project site.
A Bird Review Committee, formed to assess the field test results, reported that only a few petrels had been observed flying over the project site during the five month study. The petrels stayed close to the ground when flying over hills such as El Tropezón, well below the sweep of the turbines’ blades.
The committee concluded that although the turbines presented no major threat to the survival of the petrel, some of the birds were being killed when they flew into transmission lines.
As a result, the project buried the transmission line near El Tropezón hill, chose turbine towers with no tension wires and minimized fencing.
The committee also called for a rat control program and a long-term study of petrel flight patterns to determine whether the turbines can operate at night during the nesting season without negative impacts.
The San Cristobal Wind Project has been registered as a Clean Development Mechanism project under the Kyoto Protocol. The CDM allows industrialized countries with a greenhouse gas reduction commitments to invest in projects that reduce emissions in developing countries as an alternative to more expensive emission reductions in their own countries.
The project will receive certified emission reduction credits for the diesel electricity generation replaced by the wind turbines.
According to project manager Luis Vintimilla of EOLICSA, the company established to operate the project, it is not possible to replace all diesel generation on the Galapagos with wind power.
“That would be ideal, but there is not enough wind year round,” he said. “In particular, during four months of the year with unfavorable wind conditions, during certain hours on certain days, it will be necessary to continue using diesel generated electricity. However, it is recommended that future work be done on projects to substitute the diesel currently used with a more environmentally friendly fuel.”