The Galapagos Islands are most famous for the unique animal species studied by Charles Darwin and it's those species that have been the driving force behind the archipelago's quest to derive all of its energy from renewable sources instead of imported diesel fuel which still meets the majority of its energy needs.
Back in 2001, a fuel tanker bringing diesel fuel to San Cristóbal, the provincial capital, struck a reef and spilled about 570,000 liters of diesel oil which threatened the plants, birds and marine life that only call the Galapagos home. After that event, an international group created the $10 million San Cristóbal Wind Project which saw the installation of three 51-meter-tall wind turbines and two sets of solar panels in 2007.
That project, operated by the energy company EOLICSA, has managed to cover 30 percent of the electricity needs of San Cristóbal, the second largest island in size and population, and replaced the use of 8.7 million liters of diesel fuel since it began operation. A new planned expansion would boost renewable energy to covering 70 percent of the island's electricity needs on the way to hitting 100 percent. The new project would also serve as a blueprint for how to get the rest of the island chain to catch up. Currently, renewable energy only supplies 20 percent of energy demand for the other 18 islands, most of which are uninhabited.
The wind power project on San Cristóbal is notable not just because of how it has slashed fossil fuel usage, but because it has actually helped boost the health and numbers of the endangered species there. The project included an Environmental Management Plan when it was created that outlined ways to protect the unique bird populations, especially the Galapagos Petrel which is critically endangered.
The turbines are located on a hill far away from Petrel nesting sites and where there is little of the endangered Galapagos Miconia plant. Three kilometers of transmission lines were buried to avoid interfering with Petrel flights between their nests and the sea. The group has also carried out programs to reduce invasive species like feral cats, rats and plants that threaten the endangered species.
All the work has paid off. No Petrels have been harmed in the wind project's lifetime and the efforts to control pest species have led to an increased hatching success rate from 85 to 96 percent and the Petrel population seems to be growing. The environmental management portion of this project has shown that bird populations can be protected alongside wind turbines if the right precautions are taken.
The next stage of the project will see another wind turbine added, more solar power installed and an energy storage system to make the renewable energy more consistent and reliable.