First Panama wind farm aims to supply 10 pct of grid by 2015
PENONOME, Panama Aug 5 (Reuters) - In a flat, windy agricultural pocket in central Panama, President Ricardo Martinelli on Monday unveiled his nation's first wind turbine, a project that is set to become Central America's biggest wind farm.
The $450 million project, run by Spanish-owned Union Eolica Panameña, will produce 220 megawatts (MW) of power by mid-2014 and 337 MW when complete the following year, which is estimated to be about 10 percent of Panama's electricity demand.
"It will be the biggest in Central America, without a doubt, and one of the top five in Latin America," the company's director, Rafael Perez-Pire Angulo, said.
The project comprises 135 towers equipped with turbines over 19,000 hectares (47,000 acres), and will eventually supply about 850,000 people, Perez-Pire Angulo estimated.
Chinese wind-turbine maker Xinjiang Goldwind Science & Technology Co Ltd, will provide 22 turbines for the project that generate a combined 55 megawatts, according to a statement issued by its unit Goldwind USA.
Panama generates about 60 percent of its electricity from hydropower plants. It plans to build another 15 projects by 2016, but has been hard hit by dry season droughts like one in May that forced electricity rationing and the closure of schools and government offices.
The new wind farm would have an immediate impact, Energy Secretary Vicente Prescott told Reuters.
"The dry season is when we have the least rain but when we have the most wind," he said.
Wind energy is taking hold across Central America. In 2012, Honduras unveiled the region's then-largest wind farm, with capacity of 102 MW. In Nicaragua, total wind-power production is slated to reach 180 MW in 2014 - almost one-third of its total energy demand during peak hours.
In Costa Rica, which produced about 4 percent of its power from wind farms in 2011, the state-run utility has announced plans to develop 100 MW of wind farms by 2015.
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