Wind project splits up a Mexico region that has been awarded for strong gusts

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(Bloomberg) – Two years ago, an SUV with four men stopped screeching in front of the house of the German Valdivieso Diaz, where he still lives with his parents and two nephews. They wanted to know how to find Valdivieso. And then they threatened to kill him.

As the men left, Valdivieso said his scared mother called him urging him to stay in Mexico City, where he was taking a course – more than 700 kilometers (435 miles) northwest of their rural home in La Ventosa near the Pacific coast .

La Ventosa means “suction cup” in Spanish – aptly named as it is home to some of the strongest gusts of wind in the world. This also explains why the spot caught the attention of the energy giant Electricite de France SA, which selected the location for its first wind power project in Mexico. The Valdiviesos are among the families who have leased land to EDF and are now arguing with other residents as well as with the company about the huge towers and turbines that are to be built on their property. Disputes over the project help explain why the men showed up at his house that day, Valdivieso said.

“The death threats left my mother in very bad shape,” said Valdivieso, now 29. “After the incident, no one felt safe going out.”

To be clear, no one is accusing EDF of paying the men who threatened Valdivieso, not even Valdivieso himself. What he and others in the EDF community are accusing of failing to react and foreseeing that their wind projects will cause some residents – desperate for land lease money – drive to the brink of violence. To them, it’s emblematic of how renewable energy developers are creating gaps between those who are trying to preserve their ancestral lands and those who will do almost anything for the much-needed money.

EDF officials said the company had not threatened anyone, adding that it strongly condemned such practices. The French state-controlled utility company said in a statement that it has “scrupulously complied” with Mexican law and that it recognizes a United Nations-backed position that indigenous peoples have the right to give or refuse to give their consent to projects that them or their country.

Since EDF built its first wind turbine in southern Mexico in 2009, the company has been sued by indigenous and human rights groups and accused by local residents of taking over their land without warning. In 2018, Valdivieso’s family teamed up with local activists to obtain an injunction against the company, and a judge shut down operations at EDF’s Gunaa Sicaru site in La Ventosa due to incomplete consultation with the community. For farmers in the region, the turbines are just as invasive as the mines that have emerged in the mineral-rich hills of La Ventosa. And perhaps it is no coincidence that, according to Valdivieso, the men who pressured his family over Gunaa Sicaru also demanded that he give up his opposition to local mining concessions.

EDF said the future of the project would depend on the outcome of these deliberations. The company said it worked with the Mexican authorities in charge of conducting the consultations and also built “a relationship of trust and closeness with local communities”. EDF said it was involved in initiatives like repairing roads and upgrading sanitary facilities at schools in La Ventosa and surrounding towns on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec – a narrow strip of land between the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific where two Mountain ranges form a constant and violent air flow.

Gunaa Sicaru would be EDF’s fourth wind farm in the region and, upon completion, would almost double the installed local capacity. Valdivieso and other local residents said the company had assured them that the projects would bring jobs and investment. Instead, the wind farms have fragmented the community that descended from pre-Columbian tribes. Some opponents, such as Valdivieso, said they were criticized as “going against the wind” at public gatherings by other local residents who support the industry.

What is happening in La Ventosa is part of a broader trend where wind, solar and hydropower companies have pursued projects that have resulted in land grabbing in underdeveloped rural communities. The International Energy Agency, an independent group focused on energy security, calls for $ 1 trillion a year in clean energy investments in developing countries by 2030, up from less than $ 150 billion a year earlier to net by 2050 Achieve zero emissions.

To meet this emissions target, businesses and governments need to work better with local communities, which Mexico and other parts of the world do not. In the Chilean Atacama Desert, for example, the mining of lithium and copper dries up pastures and empties drinking fountains. In Myanmar, a $ 3.6 billion hydropower plant has been suspended since 2011 due to a lack of an environmental impact assessment. READ MORE: Saving the planet with electric cars means strangling this desert

“There is no difference in the way the extractive industry works: taking land that belongs to the people, destroying their crops,” said Michel Forst, who traveled to Mexico in 2017 to write a human rights report for the United Nations. “For those who live there, who want to live like their ancestors, their way of life is suddenly destroyed.”

The Business and Human Rights Resource Center, a London-based nonprofit that pursues legal violations worldwide, ranks EDF among the highest number of alleged violations of law among international renewable energy companies in Latin America. Honduras was named the country with the highest number of crimes, followed by Mexico and Colombia.

Latin America accounted for nearly two-thirds of allegations of violations of rights in the renewable energy industry worldwide, according to the Business and Human Rights Resource Center, funded by groups like the Ford Foundation and billionaire George Soros’s Open Society Foundation. In the case of alleged human rights violations, wind energy took second place after hydropower with 87 cases.

Read more: A murder in Honduras reveals the dark side of clean energy

Business and human rights reporting emerged when listed companies like EDF revamped their environmental and social credentials to attract investors. While the wind farms in southern Mexico account for 3% of the installed wind capacity of the Paris-based utility, asset managers such as BlackRock Inc., the world’s largest investment firm, have signaled that they will not stand idly by the companies in which they invest when human rights violations occur.

BlackRock is EDF’s largest shareholder after the French government, with a stake of almost 0.5% in the company. Without identifying any companies, BlackRock said in March that it would vote against corporate boards of directors who fail to effectively address “material human rights-related risks”. The New York-based company declined to discuss its position on EDF.

“Companies can no longer afford to brush these problems under the rug,” said Kristin Hull, founder of Nia Impact Capital, a $ 400 million sustainability investor in Oakland, California that invests in renewable energy. “Justice issues must be part of the due diligence. It may seem to a western businessman that no one is pushing back, but now there are lawsuits. “

If you turn the clock back more than a decade ago, EDF was part of an onslaught of wind power companies, including Enel SpA and Spain‘s Iberdrola SA, invading Mexico. Just like the international oil companies that arrived in the country a century ago and went straight to oil wells along the Gulf Coast to drill gusher, EDF and other wind producers on the isthmus of Tehuantepec headed straight for wind money.

The area is so windy that trucks blew off the road near La Ventosa, where row after row of wind turbines sprout from the town and the surrounding countryside. In the first half of 2021, Mexico had the fifth cheapest onshore wind producer costs out of 27 countries reviewed by BloombergNEF, and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in the state of Oaxaca is the most attractive place in the country to set up.

Renewable energy companies are directly responsible for creating societal pressures, said Juan Antonio Lopez, coordinator of Mexico City-based human rights group ProDESC, which has led legal challenges against wind projects in the state of Oaxaca, including EDF’s Gunaa Sicaru. One common practice is to convert common land to private property to avoid lengthy negotiations with the indigenous communities known as ejidos, he said. The result is that local residents are often surprised to see wind towers erected on their ancestral land and then receive little to nothing in compensation.

“The land belongs to everyone,” said Lopez. “You had to negotiate with the whole community.”

For their land, the Valdivieso family receives 15,000 pesos ($ 750) a year from EDF for leasing 10 hectares, which is about 16% of what the household makes each year from selling cheese and mutton from their farm.

“First the farmers immediately signed papers to rent their land to the wind farms without realizing that it was almost like selling their land,” said Delfino Morales Felipe, municipal secretary of Juchitan de Zaragoza City Council includes several municipalities including La Ventosa. “Once it was rented, they couldn’t use it.”

In addition, the community has not received taxes from the wind power companies for the past three years, funds that could be used to power houses, build schools and parks, and repair roads and drainage systems damaged by an earthquake in 2017 said Morales. “They said they were going to build a library, donate computers to schools, but they didn’t,” he said.

He said even now farmers continue to be threatened for opposing wind farms. “The city council raises the vote of the breakaway because we want the wind farms to generate a lot of resources,” said Morales.

© 2021 Bloomberg LP


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