Feature: Bolivia takes first step in realizing its wind potential

By the Potencia correspondent

Bolivia is a country with a wealth of natural resources. With huge natural gas and oil deposits, most of its electricity production comes from thermal power stations.

Currently, non-hydro renewable sources do not play a significant role in Bolivia's energy sector. However, the recent inauguration of the country's first wind farm is said to be one of the biggest energy news stories in the region, according to observers.

Local newspaper La Razon reported the wind farm will add 3 MW to Bolivia’s National Interconnected System (SIN). Its output is obviously very small but the inauguration of this wind farm, which was conducted by Evo Morales, the country’s president, is said to represent an important boost to renewable energy development in a country, where electricity production is currently dominated by less environmentally-friendly sources.

The wind farm is located near the town of Qollpana in the Cochabamba department, and will supply electricity to the 25,000 inhabitants of the Pocona municipality.

The project represents an investment of $7.6 million and was built by China’s Hydrochina Corporation. The company will operate and maintain the wind farm for the first two years. Thereafter, Bolivia’s national electricity company ENDE will take charge.

According to the Spanish-language website of China’s International Radio, the first phase of the wind farm comprises two wind turbines - Gold Wind WTG77-1500 – each with a capacity of 1.5 MW.

At the inauguration, Morales emphasized that Bolivia needed to diversify its electricity generation sources, and to be able to produce surplus of electric energy that could be exported to other countries.

In the region of 65 per cent of Bolivia's electricity comes from thermoelectric plants and 35 per cent from hydropower.

According to energy minister Juan Jose Sosa the aim in the medium term is to reduce the dependence on thermoelectric plants by substituting them with renewable energy sources.  In parallel, the government also plans to increase the number of hydropower plants, promising an investment of up to $800 million in new hydro.

Another article by La Razon stressed the increasing importance that China has in the Bolivian energy market, with this Asian giant playing a key role in achieving the Agenda 2025 goals. The goals include eradicating extreme poverty, increasing access to basic services, health and education and attracting financing, growing productivity, food and environmental sovereignty. To achieve all of these goals the country need an efficient energy infrastructure.

China will also collaborate in the gradual replacement of gas by wind as a source of energy. Over the course of 2014, more wind power projects are expected to be built. Among the wind projects that may be developed is a wind farm with an installed capacity of 50 MW.

Thus, the opportunity of starting exports could be real by 2015, according to a report by Spanish news agency Efe. Initially, the aim was to kick-start electricity exports by 2020 but the many projects in the pipeline could mean result in exports starting earlier than that.

Bolivia is one of South America's least-developed countries, and in order to achieve the desired economic growth it is essential that the country has a robust and sustainable energy infrastructure.

The government is very aware that the future of electricity production is strongly linked to renewable sources and is working hard to move this forward as quickly as possible. In this objective, the government considers China a key strategic partner and a somewhat of a ‘counterbalance’ to the influence of the USA in the region, reports La Razon.

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