By Stephen Leahy*
TORONTO, Feb 29 (Tierramérica) – Ecuador has taken the first step towards ending the oil dependence of its Galápagos Islands, in the eastern Pacific Ocean, with the official opening of a 10.8 million dollar wind energy facility on the island of San Cristóbal.
Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa toured the facility as part of a celebration of the 500th anniversary of the discovery of the Galápagos, and proposed to declare the islands fossil fuel free by 2015.
Located 1,000 kilometres off the coast of Ecuador, the archipelago comprises 17 small and 13 large islands that are home to 30,000 people and visited by more than 120,000 tourists each year.
Nearly everything is imported from the mainland, including vast quantities of diesel fuel for energy and transport. In 2001, a tanker ship struck a reef off the coast of San Cristóbal, one of the main islands, spilling 150,000 gallons of fuel into the ocean.
Fortunately, currents carried the destructive fuel out to sea, and away from the other islands, saving vast numbers of coastal and marine plant and animal species that exist nowhere else in the world.
This close call with environmental catastrophe led Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States to form a partnership with Ecuador, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and nine of the world’s largest electric companies to build the San Cristóbal Wind Project.
“Fifty percent of the island’s energy now comes from the three 800 kilowatt turbines,” says Jim Tolin, project manager.
Diesel supplies the rest of the energy for San Cristóbal’s 6,100 residents, Tolin told Tierramérica.
Approximately half of the investment in the wind project came from the U.S.-based American Electric Power, while Ecuador contributed 3.2 million dollars, and another million came from different entities of the United Nations. The partners established a trust to help finance the operation and maintenance of the wind power facility.
Tourism is booming, making the Galápagos one of the fastest growing local economies in Latin America. But that growth is seriously threatening its unique ecology, which had remained isolated from the rest of the world for thousands of years.
Although 97 percent of the archipelago is protected and was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO (UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation), a report from that agency warns that tourism, illegal immigration and fishing and invasive species are putting the Galápagos at serious risk.
For complete article see Galápagos Islands in Search of Clean Energy
En espanol: Islas Galápagos en busca de energías limpias