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Nicaragua adds wind power to energy mix

Energy-starved Nicaragua is turning to wind as it tries to reduce its dependence on oil-based power.
Nicaragua Wind Power
These windmills, part of a $90 million project, have sprung up on the edge of Lake Nicaragua in Rivas, Nicaragua. Esteban Felix / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Energy-starved Nicaragua is turning to wind as it tries to reduce its dependence on oil-based power.

In January, the country will begin operating 19 windmills that have the potential to generate 40 megawatts of energy.

Energy Minister Emilio Rappaccioli said the $90 million project will be operating at full capacity by the end of January and contribute 6 percent of the country's total energy needs.

Nicaragua successfully ended rolling blackouts that left the country without power for hours on many days, but the government struggled to pay higher energy costs as oil prices peaked at more than $147 a barrel earlier this year.

Rappaccioli said the new project will save about $9 million a year in fuel costs, at current prices. The lead developer on the operation is Arctas Capital Group LP of Houston, Texas, which says it is in advanced stages of development for another 40-megawatt installation.

Wind is part of Nicaragua's efforts to reduce its dependence on oil-based energy to just 3 percent by 2013. The country has also turned to geothermal power from volcanoes, hydroelectric power generated by rivers and sugarcane based ethanol. Those sources provide 34 percent of Nicaragua's energy.

Ernesto Martinez, executive president of the Nicaraguan Energy Company, said recently that Russia will finance and build two geothermal plants in Nicaragua with the capacity to produce 250 megawatts. Rappaccioli also said Iran, Brazil and Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim have also expressed interest in investing in the country's renewable energy efforts.

Nearly 80 percent of the oil Nicaragua consumes is provided at a discount by Venezuela, whose president, Hugo Chavez, is a close ally of Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega.

The 400-foot-tall windmills, installed by Suzlon Energy Ltd. of Pune, India, were set up on the edge of Lake Nicaragua. They sit in the shadow of the twin volcanoes Concepcion and Maderas on the lake's Ometepe Island, and have become a tourist attraction of sorts.

"They remind me of Don Quijote," said Danilo Gutierrez, a professor who drove from the capital of Managua with his family to see them.

The project's Canadian manager, Sean Porter, says officials are considering adding 19 more windmills.