Sempra Energy gains speed on Mexico wind energy plant

MEXICO CITY -- Mexico has one of the largest untapped wind resources in the Americas Baja California, where San Diego-based Sempra Energy is poised to build its first wind project south of the border.
Written by Lauren Villagran, Correspondent (Mexico City)

MEXICO CITY -- Just south of the U.S. border, the rocky desert of northern Baja California harbors what has been dubbed one of the best wind resources in the Americas.

The wind blows steady in La Rumorosa, or "The Murmuring" – a potential renewable energy goldmine not far across the border from Southern California and its insatiable appetite for electricity.

San Diego-based Sempra Energy has accumulated roughly half a million acres in La Rumorosa through various leasing agreements and plans to break ground on a 52-turbine, 156-megawatt wind project by the end of the year. Sempra plans to ship the electricity over a cross-border transmission line, built by the company, that will connect with the San Diego grid.

The plant is expected to generate enough energy to power 65,000 homes. And that's just the first phase: Sempra plans to build out up to 1,200 megawatts of wind capacity in the area.

"Generally what attracted us was the wind availability and the ability to export," said Alberto Abreu, Sempra International director of project development. "This is one of the best undeveloped wind resources in all of the Americas."

In Mexico, the country's three electricity grids are owned and operated by a state monopoly, the Federal Electricity Commission, or CFE for its letters in Spanish. But a 1992 law opened up exceptions permitting individuals or private companies to generate electricity under certain conditions – for private consumption, in the case of rooftop solar panels, for example; or when the electricity is destined exclusively for export, in the case of Sempra's planned La Rumorosa wind plant.

The law also permits smaller electricity generators to supply a single buyer. Companies including Wal-Mart de México, baked goods and snacks maker Bimbo and cement producer Cemex are already purchasing green electricity from different suppliers through the allowance.

The wind in La Rumorosa blows an average of 18 hours a day, 10 months a year, according to Duncan Wood, an alternative energy expert and professor of international relations at Mexico's Autonomous Technological Institute, or ITAM.

"It’s a world-class wind resource," he said.

La Rumorosa isnt the only wind hotspot in the country.

According to a 2010 report authored by Wood for the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Mexico's exploitable wind energy ranges between nine and 12 gigawatts, although the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratories estimates the potential could climb to 40 gigawatts if the latest technologies are put to work.

The La Rumorosa project is Sempra Energy's first foray into wind power in Mexico (the company currently operates a natural gas-fueled power plant and natural gas distribution in Baja California) and is an attempt to capitalize on neighboring California’s tough green energy standards. The state has established that, at a minimum, 33 percent of electricity supplies must come from clean energy by 2020.

Sempra Energy spokesman Ricardo Moreno said he has visited La Rumorosa and the area is deserving of its name.

"It’s really windy," he said. "You can see how the wind has impacted the mountains. You can feel the wind when you are in the car. You can hear it blowing."

Photo: Flikr/Cesar Bojorquez

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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