Wind Power Challenges and Solutions – Seminar hosted by IDB

As a consultant currently contributing to the development of a wind farm project in Panama, and previously serving as an environmental specialist at the European Bank in London, I took the opportunity to attend a recent seminar on Wind Power Challenges and Solutions. The seminar was hosted by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) in Washington DC. The meeting provided valuable insights into lessons learned, and emerging environmental expectations of financiers of wind projects in emerging markets. (Shortlink:

The seminar was organized by the Washington Area Branch of the International Association for Impact Assessment or IAIA, which is the leading global network on best practice in the use of impact assessment (and I am a member). The seminar featured discussions around international case studies co/financed by multilateral and bilateral financial intuitions, such as the IDB, IFC, FMO and OPIC. The presentations can be accessed here:

Thanks to Genevieve Beaulac (IDB) and Diane Brown (OPIC) for their candid presentations and discussions. - The challenges associated with the case studies from Mexico appear to have started with an over-reliance of ESIAs on model-based predictions of bird kills. Ah, the seduction of computer models....!

The monitoring data available today suggests that the ESIA predictions were off by a factor of 30 or so. Recognizing their weaknesses, IDB no longer requires such models when reviewing wind projects. I was also fascinated to learn from the Mexican case studies, which have some unique characteristics, that

  • 80% of bird fatalities occur during about two weeks in October
  • 75% of these occur 1-3 days within the passage of a cold front
  • 90% occur at night time
  • 5% of the turbines were responsible for over 60% of these fatalities.

And more broadly, it seems that there is no 'free lunch' when it comes to renewables. Siting decisions for wind farms, reliable baseline studies, predictions of impacts and monitoring to determine actual impacts are as important as in most other sectors.

I was surprised to learn that, despite of a mosaic of growing number of concessions (25+?) and wind farm developments in Mexico, along with the presence of important bird migration corridors and involvement of multilateral and development banks, tools such as strategic environmental assessments (see here) or cumulative impact assessments (see here) were apparently not utilized to support Mexican agencies and developers to optimize siting of wind farm concessions, or as tools to evaluate, learn from and mitigate post-construction impacts.

Kudos to IDB and others for investing considerable resources in an effort to better understand and mitigate regional impacts of wind farm projects in Mexico.

You can access valuable guidelines for wind farm developments financed by ECAs, bilaterals, multilaterals, and Equator Banks here. Thanks to Debra Zanewich, MIGA, and Will Knowland, Mott MacDonald, the co-chairs of the IAIA Washington Chapter, for organizing this event.

What are some of the key environmental and social lessons learned on your wind project?

Are you curious about our involvement in large scale solar projects? Read about  Prizma's engagement in the Atacama Solar PV project in Chile.

Jan 2016 Update: The next IAIA seminar, entitled "Challenges and Solutions of Addressing Environmental and Social Issues in the Wind Power Sector – Updates, Experience, and Revised EHS Guidelines" will be held on Wednesday January 13th (3:00-5:00pm), Room U12-250, World Bank U Building, 1800 G Street, NW. -  Webcast details: WebEx meeting number: 315 187 054, meeting password: JfHk38Np, Join by phone: 1-650-479-3207 Call-in toll number (US/Canada), Access code: 315 187 054, Global call-in numbers: Global call-in numbers