The Evolution of Galapagos Wind

One of the world’s most prized ecological zones will soon become a showcase for renewable energy in remote locations. Early this year, crews are expected to break ground on a wind farm on San Cristñbal, the largest of four inhabitable islands in the Galapagos Archipelago. After construction is done in late 2006, the farm’s three turbines will generate up to 2.4 megawatts—meeting half the energy needs of San Cristñbal’s 6,000 residents and reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 2,800 tons a year.

Three wind turbines in the Galapagos Islands will generate up to 2.4 megawatts of electricity, enough for 3,000 people.© Jim Motavalli

While electricity-producing wind farms have been around for decades, the location of this particular one makes it unique in two ways. First, the Galapagos islands are 600 miles away from mainland Ecuador, too far to connect to the country’s electric grid.

Because the islands” diesel generators have limited storage capacity, small oil tankers must make frequent shipments and burn fuel just to reach the archipelago. The wind farm should cut the number of shipments in half and reduce the possibility of accidents, such as the 2001 Jessica tanker spill that dumped 145,000 gallons of diesel and fuel oil in Galapagos waters.

Second, although the wind farm will be on a private cattle ranch outside the Galapagos National Park, it is very much in a storied setting. Charles Darwin developed his theory of evolution there, and 5,000 species of plants and animals create a vast living laboratory for scientists. As such, the project had to meet North American and European environmental standards and was re-sited twice to avoid the flyways of the critically endangered Galapagos petrel.

Some San Cristñbal residents have voiced concerns that the turbines” noise and visibility—they are 170 feet tall, with blades measuring 193 feet in diameter—could hurt tourism. Project Director Jim Tolan noted that the site is regularly shrouded by fog, relatively far away from homes, and that portions of the 7.5 miles of transmission lines will be buried. “Most people who visit the Galapagos care about things like renewable energy, and in the end, the residents are embracing this because it gives them a showcase for their concerns about the environment,” he says.

The Ecuador government, the United Nations Foundation and the e7—a nonprofit group representing 10 electric companies in G8 countries—are sharing the project’s $10 million tab. The project also plants a seed for a more sustainable future on the Galapagos. UN Foundation Senior Officer Duncan Marsh said that a portion of San Cristñbal customers” payments will fund renewable-energy studies on the nearby island of Santa Cruz.