Wind and Colombia's renewable energy future

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Colombia's energy grid relies primarily on large-scale hydroelectric plants. The government recently passed regulation to incentivize the development of alternative renewable energy resources like wind and solar. Renewable energy firm Jemeiwaa Ka'I director Diego Patrón spoke with BNamericas to discuss the company's Irraipa wind project and the future of renewable energy. 

BNamericas: Give us some background on the Irraipa wind project and where it is in development. 

Patron: Irraipa is a 99MW capacity wind project located in [northern Colombian department] La Guajira. The aim is to connect to Colombia's national grid and launch in 2017 or 2018. The biggest challenge right now is the interconnection line, which is currently in process with [mining and energy planning unit] UPME. Irraipa is in the environmental licensing phase.

BNamericas: And what is Jemeiwaa Ka'I's history with renewable energy? 

Patrón: Jemeiwaa Ka'I was created in 2010. It's a Colombian company, but we have foreign investors and personnel with experience developing renewable energy in Europe. 

BNamericas: Why did you choose wind over other renewable energy sources? 

Patrón: The biggest reason was Colombia's huge wind potential. There are significant resources here, especially in the north. The amount of wind available in the area we've selected will allow us to create a competitive project. There's also some beneficial regulation but the primary reason was wind's availability and potential.

BNamericas: Speaking of regulation, will your project benefit from Colombia's recently passed renewable energy law 1715

Patrón: Absolutely. It's more than just a law but a message about where Colombia is at and where it's headed in the future. It shows that Colombia will continue to be a low carbon emitter nation. 

There are parts of the law that are already in effect and others that are still being regulated. So 1715's full extent remains to be seen. 

BNamericas: Is 1715 offering any tax benefits? 

Patrón: Colombia had already adopted renewable energy tax benefits and incentives in 2001. The new law strengthens these benefits. 

BNamericas: What is your outlook on Colombia's renewable energy sector? 

Patrón: Colombia definitely has a big renewable energy future. We have huge potential resources here. The disruptive cyclical weather event El Niño is expected to get stronger and more frequent as climate change increases. Renewable energy can help a lot in these situations. 

In terms of motivation, I think 1715 is a clear message that renewable energy – not just mining and petroleum – is a priority for Colombia. It's just a question of time. There's lots of work to do and there's some changes in the market that have to occur before we see the massification of renewables. But with Colombia's potential it's unthinkable that these renewable resources won't be developed. 

BNamericas: Do Colombia's plans to connect its grid with neighbors like Panama and Chile factor into your firm's strategic thinking? 

Patrón: In the short term not really. We're primarily focused on getting this project off the ground. Colombia has been working towards interconnection with Panama and other markets for some time and there are still major regulatory hurdles to get over. However, it will be interesting to what happens in the future. Colombia has a huge electricity generating potential and many neighbors who need power. 

About Diego Patrón

Diego Patrón is director at Jemeiwaa Ka'I. He has a degree in mechanical engineering with a specialization in business finance and has been working on the Irraipa project for the last four years.

About the company

Jemeiwaa Ka'I means "Sunrise" in the native Wayuunaiki language. The company was founded in 2010 and combines foreign capital and expertise to develop renewable energy in Colombia.