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The 'wind rush': Green energy blows trouble into Mexico

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"And," Mr. Calderón noted then, "the Isthmus of Tehuantapec is the area of greatest wind energy potential in the world."

Wind developers have known this since the mid-1990s, when they first targeted land here for wind farms. Today, the region's wind production is about 2,500 megawatts (enough to power, given the nearly constant wind, about 870,000 US homes).

The first town to see turbines was La Venta (pop. 2,000), north of Laguna Superior. Today, rows of turbines surround the town. The howl of the wind is now punctuated with the rhythmic sound of windmills.

"Whenever I am working there is this never-ending sound – thrum, thrum, thrum," says Alejo Giron Carraso, a La Venta farmer who works in the shadow of monstrous turbines.

For those without land, the development has been a boon.

"It's helped us a lot. Our parents are old and we didn't have much. For a lot of the people in this community it's meant a lot of work," says a woman identifying herself as part of the Betanzos family that runs a small La Venta restaurant.

For those with land, who have depended on farming, the economics are more complex: Most of the land here is communal – analogous to native American reservations – held by Zapotecs, the dominant indigenous group in southern Mexico. Decisions to lease land to devel-opers are made by local leaders, but the prices paid for individual land parcels are a patchwork of values that have led many farmers to feel cheated where turbines are already up and running.

Many locals who have given up land are illiterate and not savvy about the process. They recall meetings with developers in which model windmills the size of dinner platters were shown, leading them to believe they could continue farming around them. But they were shocked to see 15-to-20-story turbines rise across acres of their land.

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