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

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"People kept telling me, 'You know we've been experiencing globalization for a really long time,' " says Wendy Call, who has written about the isthmus and notes that the Aztecs invaded first. "But I think there is a sense of fatigue, [that] 'all the other times this has happened it hasn't gone well for us.' " [Editor's note: The original version misquoted Ms. Call as saying the Aztecs were invaded first.]

Most of Tehuantapec's communal land cannot be sold, so companies lease. A standard contract lasts 30 years, with automatic renewal.

Wind farm developers in La Venta pay a third to a sixth of what energy developers do in, for example, southeast Wyoming (the only comparably windy place in North America).

But comparisons are deceptive. Wind farms pay – either as profit sharing or flat fee – based on how the land is used: for turbines, roads, or power lines. In Wyoming, a landowner may lease hundreds or thousands of acres to a developer for tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. In the isthmus, most farmers control only two to 20 acres: If a turbine doesn't land on one's plot, payout may be as little as $300 to $400 per year.

Profit sharing in developed countries falls close to 5 percent. But in Oaxaca the market rate was determined to be 1 percent, says Jorge Me­gías Carrión, director general of Pre­neal, a Spanish company developing a wind farm here. "So we negotiated with the people, and we saw that we could enlarge that amount of money."

Preneal now pays landowners 1.4 percent of electricity profits. Ac­ciona, another Spanish wind company working here, pays the equivalent of as little as 0.5 percent, according to landowners who signed contracts.

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