New bill seeks to exploit energy in national parks

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Geothermal energy extraction inside national parks. That’s the bill set for discussion in the Legislative Assembly in the following weeks after it received preliminary approval by the Comisión Permanente de Asuntos Agropecuarios.

The bill seeks to grant the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad an exclusive permit to exploit the geothermal energy at the three main volcanoes in Costa Rica whose surrounding areas have been declared national parks. Those volcanoes are Rincón de la Vieja, Tenorio and Arenal.

The bill will be studied under file number 19.233 and it was filed by Ottón Solís and Javier Cambronero, legislators of the Partido Acción Ciudadana. This is the current party of Costa Rica’s executive branch under the administration of President Luis Guillermo Solís.

During the legislative sessions, the deputy Solís explained the aim of the project is to satisfy future electricity needs under sustainable development criteria.

He has also explained that the institute would have to pay a yearly indemnity to exploit the geothermal sources. That fee would be two percent of the gross income generated by each plant.

According to the bill, the institute would be required to prevent pollution of aquifers, soil, and air. It also states that consultation processes should be carried out with local communities and productive units that could be affected.

As part of the commitments, the text states that ICE must consult local communities and productive sectors, which may be affected by the project.

As of now, 12.7 percent of all electricity generated in the country come from geothermal projects located outside protected areas.

The main source source remains hydropower, according to the Centro Nacional de Control de Energía.

Despite Solís’ optimism, members of academia do not agree with the benefits of the bill. In fact, the university council of Universidad de Costa Rica issued a statement recommending that the bill be killed back in February 2016.

The council considers that all protected areas are meant for preservation rather than commercial purposes. The document also considers the bill would destroy the surrounding flora and fauna.

These same worries are shared by environmental organizations such as Federación Ecologista, which considers the bill to be unconstitutional since it provides an open and generic authorization to ICE similar to an effective blank check on receiving exclusive rights to exploit the area within the national preserves.

Environmentalists also consider that international agreements would not allow the country to make that decision. Similar bills seeking to exploit the geothermal resources had never gone past the committee level in the past.

That’s the case of bill 17.707, which would grant permissions to public and private companies to exploit the geothermal capacities of the Arenal Tempisque Área de Conservación.

Bill 17.680, that sought the same goals in the Área de Conservación in Guanacaste was also dismissed and shot down.

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