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Who Pays for Wind Energy?


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There’s an argument to be made that the issue of climate change is so important, with such horrible potential to transform the planet, that nothing should stand in the way of the transition to clean energy. The reality is that such a statement is overly simplistic because “nothing should stand in the way” means a lot of people get run over. But I get the sentiment. And to some extent I agree. But who pays for energy projects? There’s very little history of local residents ever winning in energy development of any kind. This is a highly capitalized and centralized extractive industry that leaves little room for traditions or democracy. But that means people lose. And inevitably it is poor people and usually people of color losing and corporations, rich nations, and white people winning, reinforcing the structural and overt racism that runs through the United States and most of the rest of the world. The history of oil, coal, and natural gas are full of these stories and are some of the world’s most horrifying and exploitative industries today, as I have repeatedly documented here and in Out of Sight. Nuclear reactors were placed next to people with very little democratic consent. And hydropower forces many people from their homes, often Native Americans and small farmers in the American context. All of these energy projects come at a pretty severe social cost, reinforcing and exacerbating inequality. Whether they are worth it or not is another question, but one most of us are happy to say that it is worth it because we reap all the benefits and pay little to none of the costs.

It’s no different with wind energy. Where do wind turbines go? Who pays? Do people receive fair value for their land? Because wind, like most energy forms, appears in usable forms only in certain parts of the globe, at least to the extent of making it worth the heavy capital investment, resistance to it is also localized. Sometimes this is actually affecting the wealthy, such as those with homes on Cape Cod who don’t want offshore wind turbines in their viewsheds. But most of is will likely replicate the same dispossession of the poor we have seen with other energy regimes. That is certainly what is happening in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, where the geology has created a big wind tunnel in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Multinational corporations, in conjunction with a Mexican government that has basically no interest in considering the plight of the poor in any conceivable way, have moved heavily into the Isthmus, greatly angering many locals who bear all of the costs and receive none of the benefits of this wind energy. That they have effectively contributed nothing to climate change, often to the point of still farming with oxen and not using chemicals, makes the fact they bear the burden all the more problematic.

November 2012. The consortium Mareña Renovables aims to build the largest wind farm in Latin America in the Barra de Santa Teresa, in San Dionisio del Mar, Oaxaca. The Barra is a strip of land that forms the top and bottom lagoon which is connected to the sea in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. In this land, the indigenous Zapotec community Binni Záa and the indigenous Huaves Ikojts, together with the community of Alvaro Obregon, opposed the project.

What was first known as Mareña Renovables project (?)has changed its name and its form several times. The Spanish energy company, called the Preneal group, who had signed exploration contracts and obtained the permits from the state government, sold the rights to the project for $89 million to FEMSA, a subsidiary of The Coca-Cola Company and Macquarie Group, the largest investment bank in Australia. These companies quickly sold part of their stake to Mitsubishi Corporation and Dutch pension fund PGGM, signing at the same time a power purchase agreement with FEMSA-Heineken for 20 years.

They also sought to speculate with the reduction of 825,707 tons of carbon dioxide a year, equivalent to the emissions of 161,903 cars.

“Mother Earth is sick, the disease is global warming. They want to profit with the same disease that they have caused Mother Earth. Under the pretext of reducing global warming, they come to our territories to control our forests, mountains, our sacred places and our water,” said Carlos Sanchez, a self-defined Zapotec community member who participated in the resistance against the installation of wind farm in Barra Santa Teresa Park and the installation of a park by Gas Natural Fenosa in Juchitan de Zaragoza.

Sanchez is also founder and member of the Totopo community radio station , created as a need to report on megaprojects in the region of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. During an intermission of his radio programming, we asked Sanchez about what the Zapotec people know about the CDM. “It is a discourse between businessmen. They are labels exchanged between companies to justify their pollution and are do not explain anything to indigenous peoples” he says.

“Could we, with our forests, also sell carbon credits, bypassing these companies? Who will buy? It is no coincidence that only those who understand these mechanisms are the only ones who benefit as employers and the state.” In addition, he states: “We do not even benefit from the energy produced. If you walk by the communities you will notice what the clean development they have brought consists of, and I challenge one of the owners of the companies to see if they want to live in the midst of these turbines. ”

Following the demonstrations made by indigenous peoples, on 8 May 2013, the Secretary of Tourism of the state of Oaxaca, José Zorrilla Diego, announced the cancellation of the proposed Renewable Mareña in the Barra de Santa Teresa. Shortly after the announcement of the cancellation, the state government said the project would continue in other areas of the Isthmus.

Resistance can lead to an isolated victory but the war is very much still on. The Mexican government’s response to this resistance is its typical response to grassroots opposition–harassment, intimidation, shutting down radio stations, using legal means to throw poor people off their land or push forward with the project without even telling local people, many of whom do not speak Spanish, that they are even occurring. In other words, the creation of large-scale wind energy in Oaxaca is a tremendously undemocratic and unjust process.

Now, you can say this is worth it because “we” need the wind energy so badly. But who will really receive the benefits from this energy? What responsibility do we have to ensure that our energy is produced without oppressing others? What about our companies that are investing in Mexico and using that energy there? What responsibility do we have to hold them accountable? What compensation should people receive for necessary energy projects that affects them in awful ways? These are all questions we should not only be asking but also searching for real answers.

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