When the Wind Blows in the Galápagos

How an ambitious wind-power project is helping protect one of the most exquisitely beautiful places on Earth

Photo: Gary Cralle/Getty Images

PACIFIC PARADISE: Situated 1000 kilometers from mainland Ecuador, the Galápagos archipelago is home to more than 20 000 people, and an additional 120 000 visit annually. The growing human activity has placed an enormous burden on the islands’ power grid, which until recently relied entirely on diesel generators.

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Photo: David Hosking/Alamy

OTHERWORLDLY: Among the archipelago’s exquisitely unique creatures, the most famous is probably the giant tortoise. Charles Darwin, who visited in 1835, marveled at the animals, writing in his journal: ”These huge reptiles, surrounded by the black lava, the leafless shrubs and large cacti, seemed to my fancy like some antediluvian animals.”

For more on Galápagos, see Wind Power in Paradise

Photo: San Cristóbal Wind Project

TOWERING TURBINES: To reduce the use of oil in the archipelago, the Ecuadorian government, the United Nations, and the e8—an international consortium of electricity companies—decided to build three massive wind turbines in San Cristóbal, the archipelago’s easternmost island.

For more on Galápagos, see Wind Power in Paradise

Photo: Martin Bernetti/AFP/Getty Images

SINKING SHIP: On 16 January 2001, the Ecuadorian tanker Jessica ran aground near San Cristóbal’s harbor, leaking more than 500 000 liters of diesel and bunker fuel. The spill dirtied sea lions and tortoises and killed a handful of pelicans and seagulls.

For more on Galápagos, see Wind Power in Paradise

Photo: Erico Guizzo

BIG, NOISY, AND SMELLY: San Cristóbal uses three 650‑kilowatt diesel generators to produce electricity. The other three inhabited islands in the Galápagos use similar generators. Together, they burn some 13 600 liters of diesel every day.

For more on Galápagos, see Wind Power in Paradise

Photo: Diego Añazco

HEAVY METAL: Workers used five cranes and several large trucks to transport and assemble the wind turbines’ 29.5-meter blades and massive tower parts, some weighing more than 30 metric tons.

For more on Galápagos, see Wind Power in Paradise

Photo: Diego Añazco

IN A FOG: At the height of the construction phase, workers braved foggy and rainy conditions in the highlands of San Cristóbal to build the foundations and erect the wind turbines.

For more on Galápagos, see Wind Power in Paradise

Photo: San Cristóbal Wind Project

BIRD WATCH: The organizers of the San Cristóbal Wind Project chose the location of the turbines carefully to avoid areas where the endangered Galápagos petrel flies and nests.

For more on Galápagos, see Wind Power in Paradise

Photo: Erico Guizzo

CONTROL ROOM: Alvaro Ginel, an engineer with Made Tecnologías Renovables, tests the wind turbines’ control system at a substation situated 12 kilometers from the wind site. The control system increases or decreases the turbines’ power output according to the island’s demand.

For more on Galápagos, see Wind Power in Paradise

Photo: Erico Guizzo

AROUND THE CLOCK: Project manager Luis Vintimilla, a 60-year-old mild-mannered engineer widely respected in Ecuador, played a key role in navigating Ecuadorian laws and energy policies.

For more on Galápagos, see Wind Power in Paradise

Photo: Erico Guizzo

GEARED UP: Project manager Jim Tolan gets ready to ascend one of the 50-meter-high wind turbines, atop of which you can see almost the entire island and the deep blue Pacific all around. ”It’s a million-dollar view,” Tolan says.

For more on Galápagos, see Wind Power in Paradise

Photo: Diego Añazco

UP AND RUNNING: In September 2007, the three turbines began operation. They will supply 52 percent of San Cristóbal’s annual electricity needs, reducing the amount of diesel burned by 950 000 liters and preventing 3000 metric tons of carbon dioxide from being dumped into the atmosphere every year.

For more on Galápagos, see Wind Power in Paradise

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