The 'wind rush': Green energy blows trouble into Mexico
Green energy's big success is a rude awakening in the isthmus of Mexico.
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For generations, the towns have feuded over a strip of land that Santa Maria owns but that the more traditional San Mateo con-siders sacred.
The village of San Mateo del Mar is renowned among archaeologists for the purest existing form of Huave culture: Women still weave and wear bright huipil (blouses), and men fish from land with nets connected to kites. Roman Catholic priests are expected to partner with the shamans, who worship natural forces, such as the wind.
When Santa Maria sold the rights to the contested land to build devices that harness wind, San Mateo snapped. Following a series of violent confrontations, San Mateo blockaded the only road to the mainland.
"They said they were going to starve us to death," says one Santa Maria farmer. It's not starving, but Santa Maria has certainly withered because getting in and out of the town now is only possible via a fearsome skiff-trip across heavy swells. To visit San Mateo, five miles away, Santa Marians must travel 70 miles by boat, taxi, and bus around the lagoon.
The Santa Maria village council says it needs wind turbines now more than ever. "The situation here is destitute," says Tarcio Jimenez José, a village leader. "There's nothing here.... The need forces us."
When asked about the local schism, Megías at Preneal blames it on the "violent leaders" in San Mateo. He said he was not aware of any religious role of wind, though his company published a book celebrating Huave culture and history.
Beatriz Gutierrez Luis, a San Mateo teacher and activist, says: "I understand this is supposed to be a form of clean energy. [But] if they gave us all the money in the world, we'd say 'no.' Our children and our grandchildren will depend on the fish, the shrimp, the love of the land, respect for nature, and all of our cosmology we have as an indigenous community."
Even so, the wind farm construction in Santa Maria is slated to go ahead, with turbines delivered by boat. Preneal will not do the work: It sold, for $89 million, the rights to the land in San Dionisio and Santa Maria to an Australian investment company and Coca-Cola bottling franchise. The partnership says the disputed land won't be developed.
Locals want control
Mexican wind energy capacity has grown fourfold in the past two years, to 500 megawatts. It has helped push Mexico's total renewable energy production to 26 percent of total electric output.
Most renewable energy here is provided by foreign companies. But a few locals are now trying to get into the game. Vincente Vasquez Garcia represents Ixtapec, a community just east of La Venta, which is attempting to create, manage, and profit from its own wind energy in partnership with a wind company.
"We cannot pass up this opportunity for our community," says Mr. Vasquez, who settled as an adult in Ixtapec and has energy sector experience. "But ... [w]e want a different kind of wind development."
The idea, he says, is for the wind farm to fund benefits such as better schools. Such models are emerging elsewhere, but without access to expertise, this is nearly impossible for largely illiterate communities.
Regardless of who builds them, wind farms are now a permanent fixture on the isthmus skyline.
"Before, no one knew who we were," says the La Venta restaurant worker. "Now, when I say, 'I'm from Oaxaca – you know, where the windmills are,' they know where I am from."
IN PICTURES: Windmills of the Mexican isthmus