Energy from Water in Nicaragua

CARLOS COLONEL owns an avocado farm on the slopes of an extinct volcano on Ometepe Island in Nicaragua. A while back, he realized that he could use the waterfall on his property to create clean energy, not only for himself, but for some of the poorest residents of the island who had never had power before. His quest to create a small hydroelectric power plant took nearly 5 years as he overcame geography and skeptical investors to bring light where there previously had been darkness. Now he employs local people to run the power plants that provide low-cost, environmentally-friendly electricity to 35% of the people on the island.

As one of Nicaragua’s most popular tourist destinations, the northwest side of Ometepe island was well equipped with power stations. But the rural side, where Kinloch has his avocado farm, was left in darkness. To make his dream of renewable energy a reality, Kinloch and his business partners had to raise more than one million dollars by convincing potential investors that they would see a return on their investment and that the rural villagers would pay their bills.

Kinloch hired community members to build the power plant and install the pipeline on the slope of the volcano. All of the power plant supplies had to be shipped to the island from the mainland. Once the pipeline was complete, an earthquake hit Ometepe destroying 30% of the pipeline. Undaunted, Kinloch and his team forged ahead to face the next challenge: raising money to purchase power lines. It took another 3 years for Kinloch to find an investor to supply 35 kilometers of power line to the rural communities of Ometepe.

Kinloch ignored the skeptics on the mainland who told him the local people would break the power plant equipment. “We took small farmers who didn’t have any idea about the computer and energy, and we taught them how to run the turbine,” Kinloch explains.  “I taught the guy who milks the cows to work the turbine, and he can do it.” Kinloch purposely hired only local people, who now have a reliable source of income in addition to access to clean energy.

Electricity came to the rural side of the island with much excitement. “We had to teach them about energy and how to use the energy,” Kinloch explains. “For the first month it was crazy. They had the light on every night and radio on all the time.” Kinloch relied on community leaders and teachers to teach the community how to use energy wisely and safely.

“The mind grows when you have light,” says Kinloch. Electricity changes lives. Land value increased and some residents have sold land to build better houses and start businesses. Farmers, who use the hydro powered irrigation system, can increase their yield by extending their growing season well past the rainy season. Kinloch’s goal is build enough power plants to supply 100% of the power on the island. His dream is for all of Ometepe to enjoy the benefits of renewable energy.

Published in Americas magazine by Chris Hardman


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