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Archive for December 14th, 2012

The concrete under the nuclear reactor in Seabrook is rotting. (The official term is “alkali-silica reaction.”)  The nuclear reactor in Vernon, Vermont has outlived its useful life and is now operating outside the laws of the state.  It should be shut down immediately for safety reasons.  Hydro-fracking to produce natural gas is poisoning the air, water, and food supplies.  The burning of coal is changing the earth’s climate and some means of extracting it are destroying human lives and the natural environment.  The “Northern Pass,” a proposed network of power lines to connect the New England power grid with that of Quebec, will draw its electricity from reservoirs created by diverting rivers and flooding thousands of square miles of land, mostly land inhabited by First Nations people.  Whatever you think of the giant towers that have been proposed to transmit this electricity it’s not exactly “green energy.”

Having gotten that out, I have to say I’ve had generally positive thoughts toward plans to generate electricity from wind on New Hampshire ridges.  But it has not escaped my attention that objections to industrial wind farms in New Hampshire remind me of objections to similar projects in Oaxaca, Mexico.  And the cast includes some of the same corporate characters.

The December 11, 2012 NH Union Leader reports:

Opponents of a planned 37-turbine wind-power project on 6,000 acres of private land in Grafton, Alexandria and Danbury have started a petition asking state officials to stop the development.

"The negative consequences of this industrial wind farm development far outweigh the benefits. We the people want this stopped to protect our homes, our land, our communities," states the petition, which was written by Grafton resident Erin Darrow.

The project is planned by Spanish wind-energy giant Iberdrola Renewables, which recently built a 24-turbine, $120 million 48-megawatt wind farm in Groton.

Iberdrola also faces persistent resistance in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the narrow part of Mexico between the Pacific and Caribbean in the eastern part of the state of Oaxaca, where it is one of the main developers of industrial wind farms.

A recent article by Jennifer M. Smith and published on Upside Down World states:

In April of 2004, the United States Department of Energy (DOE) and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) sponsored a study to accelerate the development of wind projects in the state of Oaxaca, which found that the best area for wind project development was in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, in the heart of the ancestral Ikoots territory. 

Local residents have objected for several years to the terms of agreements between foreign windpower developers like Iberdrola, local landowners who cut private deals without community approval, and the far-off corporations that contract directly for the electricity.  Smith writes:

There are currently 14 wind farms built on land in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, with 4 under construction in 2012 and 3 more scheduled for 2013. According to the Declaración de San Dionisio del Mar, released on September 17 by the indigenous rights organization UCIZONI (La Unión de Comunidades de la Zona Norte del Istmo – The Union of Communities in the North Zone of the Isthmus), the communities affected by the 14 existing wind farms have not benefited from lower electricity rates; rather, the intention of the farms is clearly to serve the interests of transnational corporations such as Coca-Cola, Walmart, Nestle, Bimbo [Mexican manufacturer of a Wonder Bread-like product] and others. The wind turbines in San Dionisio are the first proposed turbines to be built in the sea. 

[See this article in Noticias, a Oaxaca daily published in Spanish, for a list of the wind projects.]

The developer behind the San Dionisio project is Mareña Renovables, which is owned by Mcquarie, an Australian investment bank. 

According to Jennifer M. Smith,

The proposed Parque Eolico San Dionisio (San Dionisio Wind Park), a wind farm to be constructed in the ocean along the coast, would consist of 102 wind turbines in the water outside the town of San Dionisio del Mar (and 30 more outside neighboring Santa Maria del Mar), two electric transformer substations, six access paths and additional support structures. It would take up 27 kilometers of coastline.  The multinationals implementing the project have also informed the Mexican government that they will need to install 5 mooring docks in the Laguna Superior, a coastal lagoon that local communities heavily depend on for fishing.

Mcquarie, by the way, happens to own 55% interest in the company that owns the company that owns the company that owns the company that owns the company that operates the water utility serving Hampton, Hampton Falls, and Rye NH.  (The other 45% is owned by an entity called British Columbia Investment Management Corporation.  I don’t know whose investments they are managing in this case.)  One question that has surfaced in relationship to such arrangements concerns the possible impact of international trade agreements on attempts to regulate projects owned by foreign investors. 

Members of the indigenous Ikoots community, which has lived in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec region for thousands of years, say they would not even benefit from jobs on the project, which puts their traditional fishing livelihood at risk.  They have organized local protests and gone as far as Mexico City to get the attention of government agencies.  

It will be interesting to see if local resistance in New Hampshire follows a similar trajectory.  In both countries it will be interesting to see if wind farms can be developed in ways that meet community needs for democratic accountability and also meet needs for sustainably produced electricity.  

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