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The Dark Side of Clean Energy in Mexico
January 29, 2016
By Santiago Navarro F. and Renata Bessi
Companies and governments have used a rhetoric of “clean development” to continue exponential economic growth, with megaprojects and so-called clean technologies. International mechanisms, such as the Clean Development Mechanism for developing countries (CDM) promote this strategy. However, there are contrary positions, especially in the geographical areas where these projects considered alternative are developed.
In southern Mexico the generation of clean energy in the form of giant wind energy projects has divided communities. Opposing positions claim indigenous and peasant ancestral lands are being dispossessed and that the projects have important negative impacts on the ecosystem that are being overlooked.
Loaded with a series of questions, this reporting team travelled to one of the largest wind farms in the world, built in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in southern Mexico, a region that is home to the indigenous Huaves, Mixes, Zapotec, Zoque and Chontales. In this area least 21 wind farms have been installed in the last 21 years, comprising the Tehuantepec Isthmus Wind Corridor. Developers have plans to build 28 parks for clean energy generation in the region
Celestino Bortolo Teran is an Indigenous Zapotec whose land has been surrounded by the company Gas Natural Fenosa’s wind farm. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)
ISTHMUS OF TEHUANTEPEC EPICENTER OF CLEAN ENERGY
A palm hat worn down by time covers the face of Celestino Bortolo Teran, a sixty-year-old indigenous Zapotec man. He walks behind his ox team as they open furrows in the earth. A seventeen-year-old youth trails behind, sowing white, red, and black corn, a ritual of ancient knowledge shared between local people and the earth. Neither of the two notices the sound of our car as we arrive, “because of the wind turbines,” says Teran. Just fifty meters away, a wind farm has been installed by the Spanish company Natural Gas Fenosa. It will generate, at least for the next three decades, what governments and energy companies have declared clean energy.
Along with this farm, twenty others have been set up forming what has come to be known as the Wind Corridor of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, located in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca. The Corridor occupies a surface area of 17,867.8 hectares across which 1,608 wind turbines have been installed. The Secretary of Tourism and Economic Development of Oaxaca (STDEO) claims that they will collectively generate 2,267.43 MW.
The Tehuantepec Isthmus stretches just two hundred kilometers from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean, making it the third narrowest strip of land connecting the Americas after the isthmuses in Nicaragua and Panama. Mountains converge here to create a geological tunnel that funnels extremely high-speed winds between the two oceans. Energy investors have set their sights on the region since the government of Oaxaca claimed that the region is capable of producing 10,000 MW of wind energy in an area of 100,000 hectares.
Isthmus of Tehuantepec, 200 kilometers of land connected with the Atlantic and Pacific. The arrow marks the direction of the wind.
“Before, I could hear all the animals living in the areas. Through their songs and sounds, I knew when it was going to rain or when it was the best time to plant. Now though, it seems the animals have left due to the wind turbines,” Teran told us, with sadness and rage in his voice. Teran does not know if the claims that the turbines, are generating alternative energy to help to reduce the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of large corporations and industrialized countries are true or not. The project was built in accordance with the Clean Development Mechanism (MDL) as defined in the Kyoto Protocol. The main objective is to prevent global temperatures from rising 2°C before 2100, according to the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), better known as the COP 21, held in Paris, France Nov. 30-Dec. 11, 2015. “I don’t know what climate change is and I don’t know about the COP. I only know that our ancestral lands are being covered by these turbines,” “I don’t know what climate change is and I don’t know about the COP. I only know that our ancestral lands are being covered by these turbines,” said Teran.
At the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992, participating countries passed the UNFCCC in response to climate change. With this accord, states set out to maintain their GHG emissions at the levels reached in 1990. At the Third Conference of Parties (COP 3), held in Japan in 1997, the Kyoto Protocol was approved by industrialized countries with the aim of reducing national emissions to an average of five percent below the 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012. In order to help reduce the costs of this reduction, three “flexibility mechanisms” were designed: Emission trading, Joint Implementation (JI), and the aforementioned Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) under which a large number of the wind farms in the Tehuantepec Isthmus have been constructed.
According to the Kyoto Protocol, these mechanisms are meant to permit industrialized countries and private companies to offset their emissions by developing clean energy projects in other parts of the world where it is more economically viable and then include these reductions in their national quotas. Joint Implementation targets projects in Eastern European countries, many formerly members of the Soviet Union, while the CDM is only applicable to developing countries that were not given a GHG emission limit under the Kyoto Protocol. The second period of engagement of the Protocol is 2013-2020. In this period, countries in the European Union (excluding Iceland) have agreed to a collective emission reduction of twenty percent with respect to 1990 emission levels.
“The investment of polluting companies and countries in CDM projects and carbon credits is a form of speculation that has turned pollution into a business”Biologist and coastal ecology and fishery sciences professor and researcher Patricia Mora, of the Interdisciplinary Research Center for Integral Regional Development of Oaxaca (CIIDIR Oaxaca) based at the Instituto Politécnico Nacional, affirms that many studies show that as temperatures continue to increase, “The investment of polluting companies and countries in CDM projects and carbon credits is a form of speculation that has turned pollution into a business”.
The secretary general of the UNFCCC, Christiana Figueres, speaking in Berlin on the national plans published by 146 countries to combat climate change last October, that if the international community does not take urgent action, global temperatures will rise four or five degrees Celsius by 2100 according to estimates of the International Energy Agency.
The Clean Energy Extraction and Energy Transition Financing Law states that Mexico will install technology to generate 25,000 MW of clean energy by 2024. “Mexico has an obligation to limit the electrical energy generated by fossil fuels to sixty-five percent (from the current eighty percent) by 2024,” the law states.
Here, I have everything – milk, corn, fruits, vegetables. It is all a product of my work and produced naturally.Teran continues sowing his corn as we ask him about the benefits he’s gained from the Wind Corridor. A bit irritated, he responds, “They have not provided me or anyone in my family a job, and I don’t want anything to do with these companies or the government. I just want them to leave me in peace on my land, to let me live as I did beforehand. Here, I have everything – milk, corn, fruits, vegetables. It is all a product of my work and produced naturally. Here, I have everything – milk, corn, fruits, vegetables. It is all a product of my work and produced naturally. We don’t use any agrochemicals.”
WIND FARMS FOR SALE
The United States Department of Energy (DOE) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) published an atlas in 2004 that mapped wind potential in the state of Oaxaca, with the goal of accelerating the use of wind energy technologies in the state.
“This wind resource atlas is an example of collaboration between Mexico and the United States, besides being an important element of the Mexican strategy to ensure availability of the necessary information and to define specific renewable energy projects, as well as tools to access financing and development support. The goal in creating this wind atlas and other assessments of renewable resources is to ensure that communities of Oaxaca in the end receive social and economic benefits of renewable energy,” explains the document.
The mapping confirms that the Isthmus is the region with the largest wind potential, with winds up to 60 km /h. “This region of the Isthmus provides an excellent wind resource, especially the regions of La Mata, La Venta and La Ventosa”, the Atlas concludes.
The first project was developed at La Venta in 1994. The first project of its kind in Latin America, it was named “La Venta I”. Later followed La Venta II and La Venta III. The first two are operated by the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) and the latter by the Spanish company ACCIONA.
The researchers say they will not share specific maps related to the respective areas of wind potential, due to the confidentiality required in possible contracts signed between companies and the government of Mexico. A decade later, with the arrival of more wind parks in the region, it has become clear that the majority of these sites are located on the shores of Lago Superior.
Map of the wind resource assessment conducted by USAID
To further promote the development of wind energy in Mexico and the possibility of export, USAID released another document in 2009 called “Study of Export Potential Wind Energy of Mexico to the United States”. This document confirms that the greatest potential for wind energy is concentrated in the states of Oaxaca (2,600 MW) and Baja California (1,400 MW). In August 2015 the government of Mexico officially announced that the wind farm “Energía Sierra Juárez” Baja California, the first wind project between Mexico and the United States, will export energy to California. And they are waiting for an interconnection to export the energy produced in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.“This mapping is only one part of a series of mega-projects that are designed for this area. Not only is it wind energy, but also oil and gas, mining, and infrastructure for the transport of goods. Therefore, this wind mapping is only a pretext to map the full potential of this whole geostrategic area, which functions as a type of catalog to offer it to businesses,” says biologist Mora.The wind corridor was designed under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), signed in 1994 by Mexico, the United States and Canada. NAFTA implementation began with the international agreement called Plan Puebla Panama (PPP), now remade into Proyecto Mesoamerica. The project’s main objective is to create favorable conditions for the flow of goods, oil, minerals and energy, which was necessary, according to the official document of the PPP, for “the creation of roads, paths, steps, bridges, railways, pipelines , aqueducts, power lines, ports, airports and telecommunications. “The president of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, recently announced the creation of three special economic zones in the south of the country, including the Interoceanic Corridor of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, “in order to generate new poles of industrial development and diminish the economic and social backwardness of these regions,” the report said.
“Clean energy is part of this context. It’s part of the continuity of the exponential economic growth of capital, it is not something alternative to it. It’s another link that is painted green,” Mora states.
THE COSTS OF CLEAN ENERGY
The dominant development model in the production of electricity from wind power in the Tehuantepec Isthmus, is presented as a formula in which everyone wins – the government, developers and industry. It’s a self-supply model, in which a private developer of wind power generates energy production contracts for a wide portfolio of industrial customers (Coca-Cola, CEMEX, Wal-Mart, Bimbo, for example) for a certain period. In this way, companies can obtain energy prices lower than the market for the long-term and they also enjoy the financial benefits of carbon trading, which allows them to continue polluting and, to speculate on the sale of pollution permits to other companies. Developers can also access financing schemes for “green” projects through organizations like the Inter-American Development Bank and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the UN.The communities are also presented as winners in these projects for the development of self-sufficiency and the income they receive from the lease of their land. But two decades after the first wind farms were installed, what benefits gains have these Clean Development Mechanism projects left to the peasant and indigenous communities?
¿Why the resistance?
In response to constant harassment and persecution, the Alvaro Obregon community created a community police force called “Binni Guiapa Guidxi” In November of 2012, the consortium Mareña Renovables set out 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 between two lagoon that later connects to the sea in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Here the indigenous community of binniza (Zapotec) and ikojts (Huave), together with the community of Alvaro Obregon, opposed and blocked all access to this strip of land. In response, the State sent about 500 troops from the state police to unblock access, acting with extreme violence. The Indians resisted until the government suspended construction of the wind park. In response to constant harassment and persecution,the Alvaro Obregon community created a community police force called “Binni Guiapa Guidxi” on February 9, 2013.
Also in February 2013, the situation in Alvaro Obregon–the only access to the Barra Santa Teresa–became tense. Police established a checkpoint at the entrance of the community. Two Americans spoke with the commander of the local police. One of them was Andrew Chapman, a member of the management team of the company Mareña Renovables.
Bar Santa Teresa
Three researchers, Cymene Howe and Dominic Boyer, both of Rice University, and Edith Barrera of Universidad del Mar, who were in the region studying the resistance against the company, approached Chapman. He explained his work in the area to the researchers: “My job is to open dialogue and listen (…) We have this project, which I really think is good for the planet, good for the region and good for the people here” .
The director was clearly displeased at the opposition from the community to the wind project. “One cannot but be amazed at the beauty of this place. And then you see how people live. And I’m not just trying to impose my American values here, but I don’t think that bad health care is a good thing, I don’t think that poor education is a good thing … So we can channel resources to these communities to improve services. Imagine where they could be here in five or ten years. They can still continue fishing in the lakes (…) “, the researchers cite Chapman as saying in their text, “The Margins of the Wind State: Autonomy and Development of Renewable Energy in Southern Mexico”.
Chapman questioned the suggestions of the police to not enter the community for lack of security. “I find it frustrating and sad, and the consequence is that the investor group I represent is sitting in their offices and can put their money here, or they can put their money somewhere else. I don’t need these problems. I’m not really in the business of saving the world, I’m in business to make money for my trust, and I have to do it under low risk. “
Since 2013 what was known as Mareña Renovables has changed its name and form several times. The Spanish energy company, called the Preneal group, that signed exploration contracts and obtained the permits from the state government, sold the rights to the project (which at that time were two separate projects) for $89 million to FEMSA, a subsidiary of Coca-Cola, and Macquarie Group, the largest investment bank in Australia. These companies quickly merged the two projects and sold part of their stake to Mitsubishi Corporation and the 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.
Under the pretext of reducing global warming they come to our territories to control our forests, mountains, our sacred places and our water.“Mother Earth is sick. The disease is global warming, caused by the owners of money. They believe that money can buy life. They want to profit with the same disease that they have caused to 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. They are causing devastation in our social fabric,” said Carlos Sanchez, Zapotec Indian 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.
Juchitán Oaxaca: Zapotec Indians show solidarity with resistance to building one of the largest wind farms in Latin America, despite death threats from paramilitary groups paid by companies and protected by the government. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)
Sanchez is also founder and member of the community radio Totopo, created to report on megaprojects in the region of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. During an intermission of his radio programming, we threw a question at 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 they don’t explain anything to indigenous peoples,” he replied.
“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. It is a farce that is presented as very nice and green.”
Sanchez continues, “We do not even benefit from the energy produced. Instead, the energy is more expensive for ordinary consumers. While the transnational corporations that are supplied with this clean energy are paying prices that make you laugh. 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 actually live in the midst of these turbines. They live in their mansions. “
The Environmental and Social Management, published by the IDB in November 2011, noted the possibility of short-term “economic dislocation” of the population because of the interruption of fishing during the construction phase of the Marena Renovables park. But the long-term impacts of the presence of the park on the local population engaged in fishing were not mentioned.
Following demonstrations by indigenous peoples, on May 8, 2013, the Oaxaca State Secretary of Tourism, José Zorrilla Diego, announced the cancellation of the proposed Renewable Mareña project 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.
THE UNDERESTIMATED ENVIRONMENTAL, SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC IMPACTS
After the resistance in Barra Santa Teresa in 2013, the Zapotec community of Carlos Sanchez, in the city of Juchitan de Zaragoza, received the news that a park would be installed on their land. Despite resistance from the community, the Spanish company Gas Natural Fenosa installed the Biío Hioxo park (“strong wind” in the Zapotec language). With 117 wind turbines, the company estimates that they will prevent the emission of 400,000 tons of CO2 annually.
The environmental impact study conducted by the URS Corporation Mexico in 2008, contracted by the company Gas Natural Fenosa, testifies that the development of the wind farm “in this area of Oaxaca state is a clear example of sustainable development” and that “the project is environmentally viable because it uses renewable resources and does not generates significant impacts on the environment.”
The study finds no significant impacts on wildlife; the biggest impact and one that will be given the necessary attention, according to the report, is the risk of birds colliding with the turbines. Regarding flora, the same study found that the removal of vegetation would also have no significant impact.
Local communities and environmentalists report that in fact wildlife is being affected. The regions of Barra Santa Teresa, in Alvaro Obregon, and Playa San Vicente in Juchitan de Zaragoza are particularly special because of the close interaction of the species inhabiting these ecosystems. “That is where the border of several closely related ecosystems are, of water and land, called ‘ecotones’. What happens to them separately affects the dynamics in a way that threatens the very existence of all the ecosystems as a whole “, biologist Patricia Mora states.
The biologist analyzes two levels of impacts at different phases of the Project. The first is the direct impact. When installing the project they have to “dismantle”, that is, remove the vegetation. This implies destruction of plants, as sessile organisms – those that don’t have a body to serve as a foot or support. There are also slow displacements of animals and organisms, including reptiles, mammals, birds, amphibians, insects, arachnids, fungi, viruses etc.
Generally, we only consider the macro, that is, the larger organisms, and not the tiny microscopic organisms. Yet often that’s where there’s the most damage. Many micro-organisms have yet to be identified and interestingly enough, these organisms are really what keep the ecosystems living and in balance. In many Mexican ecosystems, there are only a few of these species documented, which means that one cannot quantify their precise function or the actual damage. Many endemic, native species are in some degree of danger that is recognized on national and international lists.
After completing the construction phase, indirect impact continues. Ecosystems are disrupted and fragmented and therefore there is a greater likelihood of their disappearance, due to changing land use and climate change.
“These are considered very fragile ecosystems. Due to the geographical location, we are talking about semi-arid zones where the water cycle is vital. These ecosystems act as moisture retainers and their disappearance drastically changes the soil’s moisture capacity. As the vegetation disappears these will become totally uninhabited deserts, because solar radiation changes the dynamics of the soil and it doesn’t allow new vegetation”, Mora says.
The biologist questions the way the environmental impact studies are done. “Usually there are ‘agreements’ behind closed doors, between consulting or research centers and government offices, prior to the studies. Standard templates are used, where information is copied, sometimes poorly copied; where lies or half-truths are told. The focus on specific aspects of the project deviates, but it apparently meets the ‘requirements’ on paper. I know this because I’ve worked with the consultants who develop such projects. Additionally, many of the projects in operation today do not even have an environmental impact study,” says the biologist.
But there is no consideration for the chain of production.Mora argues that, in order to consider a clean energy project it would have to meet rigorous environmental impact studies that consider the entire chain of energy production. “It is true that the wind is clean,” says the researcher. But there is no consideration for the chain of production. They have to consider the types of metals using a single generator. For example, the steel is usually mined in open pit mines; there they use water, energy, and ecosystems were also devastated. Oil was used for the smelter and transportation. The same applies to the lubricants used. The life of each turbine that is 20 to 30 years is added and then must be replaced with new ones.
Missing accompanying studies
Environmental impact studies were not mandatory until recently, and much less those studies that analyze continued impact after construction. As for social impact, there simply are no studies. An indigenous man, Teran, lives within 50 meters of the Biío Hioxo turbines of Natural Fenosa Gas. He is one of the few peasants who did not agree to lease their land for the installation of wind turbines.
We do not know what awaits the next generation of children to be born. I’ve never seen this in my life“After the park came, I noticed that the animals changed. An example is with the first generation of calves. They were born with a deformity in the navel. A type of hernia hanging up to 50 centimeters long and some of them did not survive,” says Teran. “I sincerely wish that committed scholars would come to investigate these effects on animals because the second generation comes next year in 2016. We do not know what awaits the next generation of children to be born. I’ve never seen this in my life,” adds Teran.
The farmer tells about declining rainfall and increased thunderstorms. “It rains a lot less and thelightning strikes the turbines or the trees. It is dangerous to remain in the middle of the park when these storms come, “ says Teran. He adds that the well water used for drinking, cooking and personal hygiene, which is a few meters from the turbines, “is no longer the same water. There is a distinct taste that irritates the skin.”
Roberto Martinez, a local fisherman, tells us that traditionally migratory birds came there to drink at Cienegas, where there was water in abundance. “I think the birds are shifting their migration path because they no longer come as before.”
The environmental impact study foresaw effects on the birds. “The fauna directly affected during the operation phase of the Project are the mortality of birds and bats caused by collisions with wind turbines, by habitat fragmentation and the noise”, says the study.
In the same park, Carlos Sanchez says, “We know that companies have found veins of water and are closing them off with the foundations of the projects. They’re using a special liquid to slow the flow of water, we do not know exactly what kind of substance it is.”
Not so clean energy
To set the turbines hundreds of tons of cement that interrupt the water flows are used. “It is worth mentioning that they are using the cement company CEMEX, which also has a wind farm in the Isthmus,” Mora notes.
The population of La Venta, where the first wind farm was built, was literally surrounded by turbines. Under the argument of increasing self-sufficiency, another wind park called Eurus was built in 2009, and later auctioned off with capital of the Spanish company Acciona and the transnational construction materials company CEMEX.
CEMEX can be seen as a role model of the (MDL) CDM. The company has been listed as a clean and responsible company and has registered several projects under the mechanism. In its 2013 report CEMEX boasts of expanding their projects with the CDM model. “Six new initiatives were registered as (MDL) CDM in 2013, which include four alternative fuel projects in Mexico and Panama and two wind farms located in Mexico, among those Eurus and Ventika.”
In 2015 the Eurus wind farm won the prize awarded by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB Infrastructure 360 °) in the category of “Impact on Population and Leadership,” which recognizes outstanding sustainability practices in infrastructure investments in Latin America and Caribbean.
In February 2015, community activists and social organizations of Venta denounced that, “about 150 wind turbines of the wind farm Eurus and Oaxaca III, owned by Acciona, have spilt oil on the blades and main coil, which has polluted the subsoil and water, and the farmers and ranchers who have ranches surrounding the place,” defenders of the Earth and Sea asserted. Both wind farms have 1500 MW turbines, which need 400 liters of synthetic oil, while the 800 MW turbines only require 200 liters of oil per turbine per year.
The company Natural Gas Fenosa has anounced it will use a gate to prevent access of peasants and indigenous to the enclosed polygon of the wind farm. Only employees and local residents and workers would have access. “That would prevent fishermen’s access to the sea and the hunters’ access to the Lago Superior hunting areas,” explains Zapotec indigenous Faustina Martinez Lopez, who lives in the area. Also in this area there are seven sacred sites for indigenous peoples.
Women in resistance by the construction of the wind farm on the bar Santa Teresa
Local resistance began with the complaint of a farmer on the community radio Totopo, which transmits in the native Zapotec language as many do not communicate in Spanish. “Other farmers, fishermen and indigenous people heard that complaint and began approaching the radio. There began a process of organization. This is when the Juchiteco Peoples Assembly (APPJ) was founded,” recalls Sanchez. “It was when the community organized to resist and prevent the enclosure of wind turbines. A barricade was built to block access to Playa Vicente (Lago Superior), where the polygon began. The barricade remained for two months. But the company began using police and hit men and death threats to evict,” says Sanchez.
One of the worst clashes between the community and the police happened when a group of us went for a tour in the location where the company had already begun their work. Women and children remained at the barricade. 25 vans and cars arrived and violently pressured them to leave the barricade. “Quickly the sisters called us by phone and we mobilized the community through Radio Totopo and a battle broke out,” said Sanchez, who later was ambushed and beaten by a group of subjects.
In the end, the company finished construction of its wind turbines without fences, keeping the polygon open to hunters and fishermen.
In 2013 the APPJ filed an agricultural injunction against the company Gas Natural Fenosa for not having conducted a free and informed prior consultation, as required by the International Labour Organization. “The company will initiate the second phase of the project, and the judge has yet to issue a judgment. They said they would send an anthropological expert to evaluate whether these lands are where our ancestors lived. Only in this way, the injunction will continue. There are studies and testimonies that have been here since long before the formation of the Mexican State. We are a Zapotec Indian village, an ancient people, we retain our language, our traditions, it is offensive that the judge would even say that. He should not even be considered Mexican, because he does not know the history of the people of Mexico,” said Sanchez.
VIOLATED SACRED LANDS
Carlos Sanchez walks slowly with downcast eyes, mapping each centimeter he steps on the sand of Playa Vicente, in the Lago Superior. The seaside landscape painted with pelicans and herons flying above the fishermen, contrasts sharply with the line of wind turbines. Sanchez seeks traces of his ancestors to share with the reporting team. “There are so many traces around these territories that it’s possible to find pieces on the surface,” he says.
Vestiges buried on the shores of the beach San Vicente
The Isthmus of Tehuantepec has been occupied by different cultural and linguistic groups from more than 3, 500 years ago, by speakers of Mixe and Zoque languages. It is very likely that large and stable populations existed around1200 BC. “This indicates the amount of time that these communities have been associated with the environment, creating knowledge and transforming it in such a way that one can say that the natural environment of the Isthmus is a cultural construct, and that culture is a construct that has a close relationship with the nature of the geographical area in question, “explains Alfredo Saynes, Faculty of Sciences of the UNAM.
Sanchez steps forward, stops suddenly and points to two objects on the sand. Once up close, you can see two clay pots buried with just part revealed on the surface. “When the tide is low we can see several vestiges of ancient temples, such as these,” he tells us.
According to archaeologist Agustín Andrade Cuautle, of the National Institute of Archaeology and History, the state of Oaxaca has the largest number of registered archaeological sites in Mexico. Of the 4,000 registered throughout Oaxaca, 100 are in the Isthmus.
Land of refuge – The land where the wind estate company Gas Natural Fenosa is installed is suitable for agriculture thanks to the river water of Los Perros. The Los Perros River through these lands and floods them throughout the rainy season. “The environmental impact study states that this is eroded land, which has only garbage and flies, but it’s not true. These lands have given life to the Zapotec civilization of this region, precisely because of its fertility, “Sanchez shares.
The Istmeños are the last real Zapotecs after the Aztecs converted the Zapotecs in the north into their subjects, assimilating them culturally and linguistically. Throughout their history they resisted several attempts of domination, even fought against the invasion of the French, when they tried to colonize Mexico. To date they are recognized as people who resist and struggle.
In each of their sacred sites that are within the wind polygon -Santa Cruz Paso Cnu, Santa Cruz Guelaxada ‘, Santa Cruz Chigue’ze’, Santa Cruz Guelabe’ne ‘Guiiguidxita Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz Guuzebenda–there are the tombs of Zapotec Indians who participated in the Mexican revolution of 1910, which allowed them to keep their land in their hands.
Santa Cruz sacred site MAY 12
Historically, this town had already taken up arms, since the independence of Mexico until the Mexican Revolution in order to defend their territory. When the government sent troops, the village would empty everything in order to not leave any food for them. They took their chickens, animals and took refuge in these very same sacred places. “This area provided protection to the people, for being fertile. And there the resistance survived. These places have served as protection in many moments of our history. That is why an attack on these parks are an attack against us,” says Faustina López Martínez.
According to Sánchez, part of the site called Guelabe’ne ‘was destroyed because of the wind park. “They filled it with stones to build a road.” In addition, the paths of two other sites were also affected. “The road to Santa Cruz Chigue ‘ze’ was cut by a road in the wind energy business. The road to Santa Cruz Guelabe’ne ‘was completely destroyed, the pilgrimage can only pass coming in other ways. “
“The roads are critical to our rituals,” said Faustina. As each year, the community makes a pilgrimage to their holy sites. “They conducted no impact study for our sites,” she adds.
HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS AND PERSECUTIONS
NEW STRATEGY, NEW PARK, OLD PROBLEMS
It did not take long for the government’s promise made in 2013 to relocate the project from the Barra de Santa Teresa to another zone in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to take shape. In 2014, the company Mareña Renovables, now called Eolica del Sur (Southern Wind), found a new place to develop clean energy and contribute to the goals of reducing greenhouse gases, in the Lago Superior.
In 2016, the project foresees the installation of 132 wind turbines of 3 MW each in an area of 5,332 hectares, avoiding the emission of 879,000 tons of greenhouse gases per year, according to the company.
An independent report released by researchers from different fields and universities – UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico), UCCS (Union of Scientists Committed to Society), UAM (Metropolitan Autonomous University) and ENAH (National School of Anthropology and History), points out various inconsistencies in the environmental impact study submitted by the company and approved by the Secretariat of Environmental and Natural Resources (SEMANART).
The first contradiction regards the company that made the study. The company responsible is Especialistas Ambientales (Environmental Specialists). According to the Constitutive Act of the company, the founding partner is the engineer Rodolfo Lacy Tamayo, current Undersecretary of Planning and Environmental Policy of the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources. “Based on the above, we have a concern regarding the independence and objectivity in both the development of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) as well as the approval” states the report.
The document warned that there are many inconsistencies with respect to Baja Espinoza Forest (Selva Baja Espinosa), which is to be cleared for the construction of this project, since the study did not produce a map of land use and vegetation at the scale of the polygon. Evaluating the information available on the MIA’s own field research, “our analysis shows that the developer intends to cut 100% of the tree surface without proposing any measure of compensation.”
San Vicente Beach
“This is particularly worrying because the polygon project affects the Biological Corridor in Oaxaca in the Isthmus-Chimalapas Region, which in turn is part of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor. According to CONABIO, the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor in Mexico was established with the purpose of coordinating policies for the conservation and sustainable management of resources in priority areas in the southeastern region of the country regarding conservation of biodiversity. (…) The Selva Baja Espinoza forms a biological corridor connecting the Priority Marine Regions: Continental Shelf Gulf of Tehuantepec, and Upper and Lower Laguna; and Terrestrial Priority Regions: Northern Sierras of Oaxaca Mixe and Zoque-La Selva Sepultura “says the document.
According to Eduardo Centeno, director of the Eolica del Sur company, the MIA was submitted in accordance with Mexican law and contains mitigation measures and preventive measures for the environment, including reforestation. “One benefit is that [by means of reforestation programs and mitigation] it will enable environmental surveillance and protection of archaeological sites that would not exist if the project were not done”, he explains.
Another concern of communities relates to water pollution in the lagoon and ocean as a result of the oil that will drain on the beaches, estimated at 300 liters per windmill. According to Mora, Genoveva Bernal of Semarnat, the institution responsible for approving the MIA, says the park will not affect Lago Superior at 3.9 km. She notes that the ministry does not guarantee, “that it will not affect, like it has done to other parks in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the groundwater of the region.”
Alejandro Castaneira, professor and researcher at the ENAH, who participated in writing the Report, says the SEMANART authorized an environmental impact study that was wrongly produced. “It is announced that parks are generating clean energy. Are we going to use clean energy to produce Coca-Cola and Lays Chips while poverty continues?” asks Castaneira.
After the events of 2013, Eolica del Sur and the State convened for the first free, prior and informed consultation, under Convention 169 of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) for indigenous peoples, 22 years since the arrival of the first wind farm in the time Isthmus of Tehuantepec. This consultation began in November 2014 and was completed in July 2015, and is regarded as a essential element for the project to become effective. The federal and state government as well as the company claim that the consultation fulfilled its role, which justifies the project since most of the participants approved. On the other hand, there is enormous pressure for the cancellation of the consultation because of the irregularities denounced during the Consultation and, since they were not taken into account they limited the assembly and thus the presence of those affected.
At a press conference, Bettina Cruz Velázquez, a member of the Assembly of Indigenous Peoples of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Defense of Land and Territory, said that the consultation was carried out after local and federal permits and approvals of land use had already been given by authorities and claimed this shows the federal government’s decision to strip Binni Záa (Zapotec) of its territory. “The consultation is a simulation, the ground was already prepared to start the operations of the company and they also play with the ignorance of communities in regards to this. They do not respect international standards,” says Cruz Velasquez.
A petition for relief was filed for the 1,166 indigenous binni’zaa, in order to protect indigenous rights and defend their territory against the wind project. On September 30, the Seventh District Judge of Salina Cruz, Isaiah Corona Coronado accepted the injunction against the construction and operation of the megaproject Eolica del Sur in its territory and issued an order to suspend all licenses, permits, goods, approvals, licenses and land use changes granted by federal and local authorities, until the final judgment is issued.
According to the lawyer Ricardo Lagines Gasca, adviser to the community, the company is affected by the petition as a third party. But those who are really being sued are municipal authorities, Energy Regulatory Commission, the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources, the City of Juchitan, and the National Institute of Anthropology and History, which stated that the area would be free of any effects against archaeological pieces or remains.
“The state allows these projects one the one hand, allowing all the state and federal agencies to expedite permits. Yet indigenous peoples are not aware of these legal proceedings, so that they can actually participate in decisions and not simply be consulted after the decision was already taken. The whole Isthmus territory has been divided between companies based on the lack of awareness of the peasant and indigenous communities who live here, “says Garza.
Even with the temporary cancellation of the park, the governor of Oaxaca, Gabino Cue, in his report released in November, states the project installation as a given and as a result of the consultation. “In collaboration with the Federal Government, the State Government managed to confirm one of the most important investments in Latin America in the field of wind power generation, worth a billion dollars, in the upcoming construction of the wind farm with the company Eolica del Sur, which will generate 396 MW, “ says the document.
Independent consultant Isaac Portugal Rosas was invited by the organizers of the Consultation to describe the operation of the energy system in the country. During his presentation, he explained with technical details how energy circulates throughout the national network. In answering a question he himself posed: Why is the energy generated in the parks not necessarily used here in the communities where it is produced?, he responded. “Energy is not like any good, like an orange, for example, that can be sold anywhere one wishes. There is a system, the National Power Control Center dedicated to balance the entire national energy system, because it can not be stored. This center facilitates the distribution of energy which is released into the national system at all times. We have no way to verify that the energy produced here is used by a company in Monterrey, for example, “he explains.
What seems like a technical explanation on behalf of the consultant, who appears as independent, reveals that the wind energy produced in the isthmus has specific destination – consumption for companies – even before they begin to generate.
According to the Commission for Dialogue with Indigenous Peoples of Mexico, of the federal Ministry of Government, in a document titled Wind Energy in Mexico: a social perspective on the value of the land, states that unequal access to electricity is produced from wind energy because of international financial institutions, developed countries and multinational wind companies that fund and define the general guidelines that orient wind power projects on a large scale in Mexico. Their interests are guided more by the pursuit of profit in the short term, rather than to solve environmental problems.
“It was an `uninformed´ consultation. The company and the government stated what they wanted. What we heard there is not very reliable,”says Sanchez.
COMMON LANDS: AN OBSTACLE FOR COMPANIES
“As children we took advantage of the wind that exists in our land to move small pinwheels much like the wind turbines. We also found ways that would allow the wind to move something small. All rustic. Now you can do it with technology on a large scale,”says Juan Regalado, Zapotec Indian, from Union Hidalgo village of Juchitan, where the wind company Demex came in 2011.” The damage these businesses are doing the social fabric of our communities is not right” said Regalado referring to the park installed in his community, which does not even have an environmental impact study.
One of the major impacts is the conflict generated over land where the wind resource is located. The distribution of land after the revolution in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, is marked by a series of conflicts and changes in legislation. “The legal status of the lands of Juchitan to this day has not been clarified, which prevents clarity regarding how much it is, where communal land is located, and who regulates the sale of ejido. This situation is now aggravated by the change in land use for the installation of wind farms, “says the NGO DH Code.
According to Regalado, there is no doubt that wind turbines are on their communal lands. “There is a 1964 presidential decree where the titles to the common goods were confirmed. What is certain is that there are no private lands,” he explains.
According to him, the company’s interest is to deal with smallholdings because this way they make direct contact with a single person. “In communal lands, deals are made with the villagers. Not only the possessor of land must see advantages, but all the people of the community, because we are all affected,” he explains.
Based on the decree of 1964, Regalado and 16 others Hidalgo Union filed a lawsuit in the Agrarian Court requesting the cancellation of their contracts with the company. The legal question is whether the land is communal or private. If they are found to be communal, the contracts are automatically dissolved.
“The last judge we had of the Agrarian Court of the District of Tuxtepec said the contracts must be canceled, because they are within communal lands. But to support this decision, he decided he needed a survey by us and the company. Our expert argued that our land is within the communal estate of Juchitan, using the decree of 1964. The company hired an expert, who missed the deadline and could not answer. So they contracted a second expert, who missed the first deadline and are now expected to be late in the second, which still must be done this year, “Regalado said.
The Agrarian Court also consulted the Oaxaca Agrarian Office and the National Agrarian Registry, confirming that these lands are communal.
It is not surprising that Juchitan has this conformation. This is characteristic of the state of Oaxaca. According to the Ministry of Agrarian Development, 78% of the land in Oaxaca is collectively owned—shared ejidos, or indigenous communal lands.
“The aim is to cancel the contract with the company. It will be a precedent for other communities in the Isthmus. The sad thing is that the company, realizing that they will lose in court, has been looking to each of us individually to finish the contracts offering some money. It is a political issue, the group is strengthened and we are convinced that it is the Court that must rule that annulment with their respective damages to the company, “said Regalado.
Recurrent practices – The Commission for Dialogue with Indigenous Peoples of Mexico said that opponents to wind farms generally have said that the contracts do not provide clear information on the rights that owners have to lease their land.
“The contracts do not establish a clear distinction between productive farms and vacant land [which would generate different payments], and lack clauses regarding the renovation of payments. This is understood as the co-optation of community representatives, with simulation of ejido assemblies with signatures of dead people and others that do not appear in the ejido census to expedite the signing of contracts and individual negotiations between owners and companies, in order to exclude ejido assemblies to the processes of decision making,” says the document.
CLEAN ENERGY: THE REPRODUCTION OF INEQUALITY
According to documents from the Commission for Dialogue with the Indigenous Peoples of Mexico, international experience has shown that remuneration paid by energy companies erecting wind farms on leased lands oscillates between one and five percent of the gross income of the energy produced by the turbines. According to the European Association of Wind Energy, land rental there represents 3.9 percent of total costs. “However, the case of Mexico is drastically different if you take into account the much lower value compared to international standards: here, remuneration is between .025 and 1.53% [of gross income].”
In Europe, the value of land rental for wind farms far exceeds that which landholders can expect from other forms of land usage. The document highlights the case of Spain, where returns on land in Galicia, for example, go from 90,000 Euros for wind farms, 18,000 Euros for common land forestry, 4,500 Euros for woodland areas with high wind potential and 6,000 Euros for livestock areas.
According to the Tepeyac Human Rights Center, in the case of the energy company Fenosa Renovables’ contract with farmer Anastasio Toledo of Juchitán, it is stated that during the first phase of development, the construction of the wind park, they will begin paying him 150 pesos annually (9 Euros) per hectare. Payment for the installation of a wind turbine slides from 8,000 and 18,000 pesos (454 and 1,022 Euros) and afterwards a small percentage is added from the energy generated during the period.
“Because there is no organization that regulates the value of land in Mexico, energy companies pay landowners far less than the actual value, which can provoke tension in communities in which wind farms are set up,” states the human rights organization. “It is necessary to establish the laws and regulations which will define the range of value and the protocol for rights disputes when projects are set up on communal lands. This will help to protect the interests of indigenous communities,” the Commission for Dialogue with the Indigenous Peoples of Mexico claims.
Who benefits from clean energy? The criteria that have been used to justify the implementation of wind parks in Mexico as a means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel energy production, are insufficient to determine the benefits, risks and broader implications of wind energy production, the Commission for Dialogue with the Indigenous Peoples of Mexico upholds. “The criteria ignore or underestimate the complexity and cognitivist and ethical uncertainty of the risks and impacts created by wind parks on a large scale. They cannot be seen as a viable energy alternative if they continue to reproduce and deepen socioeconomic and environmental inequalities between countries and between social groups within individual countries.”
In collaboration with Armando Carmona
Renata Bessi is a freelance journalist and contributor the Americas Program and Desinformémonos. She has published articles in Brazilian media: The Trecheiro newspaper magazine, Página 22, Repórter Brasil, Rede Brasil Atual, Brasil de Fato, Outras Palavras.]