Local ownership & engagement in commercial wind projects in Tehuantepec Isthmus, Mexico

The following blog was written by Adolfo Mejia Montero, who recently completed his MSc thesis with Scene Consulting. 

More than 40 years have passed since “The limits of growth” (Meadows et al. 1972) triggered global awareness on the fundamental natural resource limitations of our anthropocentric model of development. Today more than ever, humanity struggles to identify and rally behind more sustainable models of development. This struggle happens on a huge variety of battlefronts throughout the world, and across the full diversity of regional economic, social and environmental landscapes. 

In this highly dynamic panorama, renewable energy has been one of the more successful of programmes in our ‘great transition to sustainable development’, achieving 58.5% of new installed electric capacity in 2014 and surpassing investment in fossil fuel based energy for the first time. The renewable energy project aims at increased energy security, decreased greenhouse gas emissions and, ultimately, reducing electricity costs. In 2014, despite continued increase in energy consumption and net growth in the global economy, carbon emissions stabilised (REN21 2014).

The shift towards energy systems based on cheap, clean native renewable resources has gained traction in large thanks to global treaties to combat climate change. In many cases renewable energy development is driving far reaching restructuring of existing energy regimes, as power relationships between new and incumbent  stakeholders reconfigure themselves in changing electricity markets. Mexico too has officially joined  the global renewable energy transition, with targets of 11-15 GW of renewable energy by 2027 and 50% of clean electricity production by 2050 (Mexico Government 2013), mostly through exploiting its vast wind energy resources (SENER 2013, AMDEE 2015). However, emerging economies such as Mexico face a complex panorama, characterised by the lack of economic, technic and specialised human resources required to build a strong, efficient domestic renewable energy industry.

Concurrent with its renewable energy transition then, Mexico also happens to be implementing its greatest energy reform in the last 77 years. This reform aims to bring the required foreign capital and expertise to Mexico. However, this has been done in a complete regulatory vacuum, leading to a “too much, too deregulated panorama” for wind energy, which is now threatening further renewable energy development in  a region with more than half of the total wind energy resources of the country. This region, known as Tehuantepec Isthmus, is the narrowest part across the country, with only 220 km of land dividing the Pacific Ocean from the Atlantic Ocean, creating a differential pressure between both areas and generating strong winds. Tehuantepec is one of the richest in Mexico in terms of natural resources, history and cultural diversity. The state is full of paradoxes, possessing enormous biodiversity, home to more than 1.9 million indigenous people with millennial community based culture and customs, but it is also one of the states with the highest poverty rate and social deprivationin the country. The Tehuantepec Isthmus part in Oaxaca possesses more than 40GW of technical wind energy potential and capacity factors around 41-46% (the European average is 26%!).

Until 2012 around 97% of the operational wind energy capacity was placed in Oaxaca, with 90% being owned by private developers (Juarez, et al. 2013). This accelerated growth of wind energy, combined with a lack of planning and regulation has created tensions between stakeholders (CCC 2015, Nahmad, et al. 2014) as well as social conflict, in which casualties have been reported and projects as large as 396MW have been stalled. In short, the lack of appropriate policy frameworks for community outreach, engagement and benefits have resulted in disruptive projects and instability in early wind energy development, to the point that it is endangering Mexico’s renewable energy targets and stands to eliminate the prospects of generating benefits for local communities and developers alike.

In this context, international experience along with national government institutions, researchers and community organizations in Mexico point to  frameworks to encourage effective community engagement and community ownership  as a means to a more socially just and effective  a  wind energy industry on the Isthmus (SEGOB 2013, Juarez, et al. 2013, CONECA 2014, CCC 2015).

With the support of the GESA, The University of Edinburgh and the experience and guidance from Scene Consulting and Community Energy Scotland, I was able to contact relevant stakeholders, analyse the current landscape of wind energy on the Tehuantepec Isthmus, and assess the potential of Tehuantepec Isthmus communities to become more engaged in wind energy project schemes. In doing so, I took account of potential role of stakeholders in furthering more effective models for community engagement and ownership, as well as the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for developing joint ownership projects.

Throughout rural areas of the developing world live marginalised communities occupying lands rich on renewable resources, with a great hunger to overcome their historic poverty conditions. There is a real economic development opportunity in joint ownership projects, which provide a source of long term revenue generation that can, if managed effectively and with the appropriate policy incentives, work as a motor for regional development. However, the next few years are crucial. What happens in the initial stages of renewable energy penetration in developing regions of the world will set the stage for good practice in community ownership and engagement. In Mexico, it is now time to engage a variety of stakeholders including communities, academics, private developers, government and NGO’s to design policy frameworks that can effectively demonstrate benefit sharing with local communities.   There is currently the political momentum to rally behind supportive policies for community energy projects, presenting a unique opportunity to bolster initiatives around systemic poverty alleviation through generating local productive activity and economic diversification.

For more information on Adolfo's work, contact adolfomejiamontero<at>gmail.com.



AMDEE, (2015), El viento en números, (Last consulted on 14/07/15), Available from < http://www.amdee.org/viento-en-numeros>

CCC, (2015), Historias y aprendizajes sobre el desarrollo de la energía eólica en México, Reporte ejecutivo

CONECA, (2014), Carta a todos los ejidos y comunas de la república Mexicana- Convocatoria para sumarse a la movilización por una reforma energética justa e incluyente, Available from < http://aguaparatodos.org.mx/wp-content/uploads/Carta-a-todos-los-Ejidos-y-Comunas-de-la-Repu_blica-Mexicana.pdf>

Juarez Hernandez, Sergio and Léon Gabriel, (2013), Wind energy in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec: Development, actors and social opposition, (Last consulted on 14/07/15), Available from < http://www.elsevier.es/es-revista-


Meadows, Donella H. and Meadows, Denis L. et al (1972), The limits to growth, Available from <http://www.donellameadows.org/wp-content/userfiles/Limits-to-Growth-digital-scan-version.pdf>

Mexico Government b (2013), LAERFTE (Law for renewable energy and energy transition financing), (Last consulted on 14/07/2015), Available from < http://www.diputados.gob.mx/LeyesBiblio/pdf/LAERFTE.pdf >

Nahmad, Salomon, Nahón, Abraham, et al., (2014), La visión de los actores sociales frente a los proyectos eólicos del Istmo de Tehuantepec, Available from <https://consultaindigenajuchitan.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/l-eolico.pdf>

REN21, (2014), Global status report, Available from <http://www.ren21.net/Portals/0/documents/Resources/GSR/2014/GSR2014_full%20report_low%20res.pdf >

SEGOB, (2013), La energía eólica en México: Una perspectiva social sobre el valor de la tierra, Available from < http://www.cdpim.gob.mx/v4/pdf/eolico.pdf>

SENER, (2013) Prospectos de las energías renovables 2013-2027, Available from <http://www.sener.gob.mx/res/PE_y_DT/pub/2013/Prospectiva_Energias_Renovables_2013-2027.pdf>