Baja California pegs Rumorosa wind generation potential at 3GW

- Friday, April 24, 2009

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The La Rumorosa area of Mexico's Baja California state has potential for the installation of some 3GW wind generation capacity, David Muñoz, the general director of the state's energy committee, told BNamericas.

Just one project is currently under construction, the 10MW Rumorosa I wind plant being developed by the state government.

Mexican firm Turbopower Services, which is building the plant, expects a capacity factor of 32-33% from Rumorosa I's five 2MW turbines, the company's project chief Arturo Corral told BNamericas on a visit to the project site.

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Muñoz said the minimum capacity factor expected for the La Rumorosa area is roughly 30%, though some planned sites have up to 36%. Other sites could have even higher generation potential, though construction might be impeded by more challenging terrain.

Although the levels are below the 40-42% capacity factor estimated by Spain's Iberdrola for its 80MW La Ventosa project in Oaxaca state - currently the only operational private wind plant in Mexico - it is a first indication that bodes well for future Rumorosa development.

Indeed, private firms are also preparing their own projects, as evidenced by the many anemometric towers in sight, and there is a 50MW wind project in sight on the other side of the US-Mexico border.

Private companies with projects include US energy company Sempra Energy (NYSE: SRE) with an initial 100-125MW and eventual 1GW, Spain's Union Fenosa with a planned 1GW in two 500MW stages, and Mexican firm Fuerza Eólica with 300MW.

TRANSMISSION

There is currently one high-voltage transmission line, with 230kV capacity, that runs through the area and will support the state government's Rumorosa I wind plant.

However, additional projects will require expansion of the line at the very least, if not more transmission infrastructure, the deputy technical director of the state's energy committee, Joaquín Gutiérrez told BNamericas.

The state government is planning to tender for additional wind capacity of an estimated 100MW that would be privately built and operated. The tender would be launched toward the end of the year, he added.

Given private and public projects in the pipeline, there could be an open season process similar to the one carried out in Oaxaca state, in which state power company CFE determined how much wind capacity power companies were willing to commit to developing in order to justify construction of new transmission infrastructure, Gutiérrez said.

Rumorosa lies between a substation in Mexicali and another in Tijuana, from where power could be exported into California to feed its growing appetite for clean energy.

However, the possibility of interconnecting Baja California's isolated grid with the national grid (SIN) would also lend itself to sending wind power to the rest of the country, according to the official.

Connecting the systems would provide "a niche opportunity for independent renewable energy producers" to be able to send power to the rest of the country under the self-supply model, he said.

Studies for the technical and economic feasibility of connecting the grids with an asynchronous link have been completed and CFE plans to integrate the networks in 2013, energy ministry Sener said in its 2008-17 forecast.

Gutiérrez said that in a best-case scenario the grids could be connected in three years.

Muñoz agreed that linking the grids would have a positive impact on renewable development. However, administration of transmission infrastructure would be more complicated, which is the primary reason interconnection has been repeatedly pushed back in the past.

"I don't lose sleep over it," Muñoz said. "Belonging to the WECC [Western Electricity Coordinating Council] is a very good thing that we haven't begun to take advantage of completely. CFE has already signed a lot of contracts for power exchange, which have been advantageous, but they could do many more."

BEYOND RUMOROSA

Muñoz also said there is "much more" wind generation potential south of the La Rumorosa area on the Sierra Juárez range.

However, many areas do not have the relatively flat topography of La Rumorosa that benefits wind development. The center of the range near the San Pedro Mártir peak, for example, is very mountainous, though valleys nearby have strong wind potential, Muñoz said.

"But we have to see. There aren't site studies. We are doing this little by little," Muñoz said.

Power transmission would also be a significant challenge in terms of making projects feasible, given the greater distance from existing infrastructure and large centers of demand.

Some areas could be developed to provide power to ecotourism sites located along the sea of Cortez such as Los Ángeles bay, Muñoz said.

Meanwhile, Baja California's energy commission has also been discussing offshore wind development with oceanologists from the Ensenada scientific investigation center (Cicese) as well as James Boyd, the commissioner of California's energy commission, though the outlook is not good.

Wind development offshore Baja California in the Pacific Ocean would be more expensive than already-expensive offshore sites in the world due to greater water depth, Muñoz said.

SECURITY

These days it is difficult to talk about the US-Mexico border without addressing the topic of safety, particularly in Tijuana, Baja California.

However, growing violence related to the drug trade is not scaring off potential energy investment, Baja California's governor José Guadalupe Osuna assured reporters during a meeting in response to a BNamericas question.

Investors do ask Osuna about the security situation, to which he replies that no investor has been kidnapped or murdered and Baja California's border area is still far safer than US cities like New Orleans, Detroit, Baltimore and Las Vegas.

"I do not see any worry for the issue of violence that investors could have," Osuna said.

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