Dominican Republic starts up wind power project

SANTO DOMINGO Tue Oct 11, 2011 6:42pm EDT

SANTO DOMINGO (Reuters) - Dominican Republic inaugurated its first large-scale wind power project on Tuesday in a move to develop renewable energy sources in the Caribbean country's crisis-ridden power sector.

President Leonel Fernandez attended the opening of the twin wind parks of Los Cocos and Quilvio Cabrera in Pedernales province in the southern part of Dominican Republic's frontier with Haiti.

The facility, which involved an investment of around $100 million by private local power companies Punta Cana-Macao (CEPM) and EGE-Haina, has 19 wind towers and will contribute 33 megawatts (MW) to the national electricity network. It will save around 200,000 barrels of oil a year, officials said.

The country's electricity sector, which relies on costly oil imports, has been in crisis for decades and consumers suffer frequent power blackouts. Private estimates say some 40 percent of Dominicans fail to pay for electricity, with many using illegal hookups to power their homes.

Under a $1.66 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) stand-by program, the government has been slashing hefty subsidies to the electricity sector and raising fees, but it has still budgeted around $350 million in subsidies this year.

A number of wind power projects already exist in the Caribbean -- in Jamaica, Cuba, Aruba and Guadelupe -- but the Dominican Republic facility was believed to be the largest of its kind so far, EGE-Haina officials said.

EGE-Haina said a second phase of the wind farm project would add an additional 52 MW in 2012.

(Reporting by Manuel Jimenez; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and David Gregorio)

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