Costa Rica 2017 | ENERGY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Dr. Edgar E. Gutiérrez-Espeleta, Minister of Environment, Energy, Oceans, Coasts and Wetlands, on the highlights of the National Energy Plan and attracting FDI to the sector.

Dr. Edgar E. Gutiérrez-Espeleta
Dr. Edgar E. Gutiérrez-Espeleta is Minister of Environment, Energy, Oceans, Coasts and Wetlands. He is also a professor at the University of Costa Rica, cofounder of the State of the Nation project of the National Rectors Council of Costa Rica, founder of the Observatory for Development at the University of Costa Rica in 1997, and its Director until 2005. Dr. Gutiérrez-Espeleta was the Director of the School of Statistics of this University until 2013 and the Director of the Graduate Program in Statistics until 2014. He was also coordinator of the Atlas del Desarrollo Humano Cantonal project, a joint initiative with the UNDP.

What are the main highlights for the coming year of the National Energy Plan 2015-2030?

Firstly, this plan was the first one made via the participation of different actors in society. The second feature is that after hearing what the participants had to say we decided to work on the main pillars that synthesize what we wanted to do during the next 15 years: energy efficiency, optimal distributed generation, sustainable energy matrix, environmentally friendly vehicle fleet, sustainable power development, sustainable public transport system, and cleaner fossil fuels. In 2015, 75.3% of Costa Rica's energy was generated by water, 12.8% by the gas of the volcanoes, 10.08% by wind, 0.77% by biomass, 0.01% by solar, and 1.04 % by fuel. We now have about a 70% participation rate of hydro generation in our matrix; on the other hand, we know water will be a scare resource in the coming decades and there is a need to diversify the energy matrix. We need to bring online new sources such as solar and biomass, as we have a great deal of agricultural byproducts that could be used to generate electricity. The main objective underlying the Energy Plan is a national development model low in emissions orientated toward decarbonizing our economy. The plan then complies with the Costa Rican goal of carbon neutrality for 2021.

What are the main advantages of investing in Costa Rica's energy sector and what steps are being taken to attract FDI?

It is not easy to invest in the energy sector per se in Costa Rica. Even if foreign companies come to produce solar energy, electricity is owned by the state, which means that every kilowatt produced has to be sold to the state. The way that we have set up the market is that only 15% of the state-owned capacity we have in place to generate electricity can be placed for private generation. The market of fossil fuels is roughly the same, as there is only one state-owned company that imports all fossil fuels in Costa Rica to be distributed by private distributors. On the other hand, oil exploration in Costa Rica has been forbidden until 2021 by an executive decree signed by the President and myself, which, again, complies with our commitment in the Paris Agreement on climate change.

How does the ministry work with local authorities to combat illegal trafficking of protected species?

We have addressed the problem of illegal trafficking of protected species by establishing different mechanism to prevent and combat it. The most recent one is an agreement that I signed with the Minister of Public Security and the President of the Supreme Court to establish a National Commission on Environmental Security with the mandate to fight criminal organizations that traffic wildlife species. With this, we are now capable of working with international security bodies such as INTERPOL, which helps to identify these groups. We have been able to capture some criminals trafficking rosewood, which is a precious wood. At the moment, we have an important fiscal crisis, but ultimately when there is more resources available, all these institutional arrangements will provide the required muscle for the government to combat the illegal trade of wildlife species.

What are your goals and priorities for 2017?

I would like to see more electric vehicles on our streets and a better and environmental friendly public transport system in place, along with higher quality fossil fuels in the market. With better fossil fuels we will have better cars, which means less pollution and more fuel efficiency, leading to less imported fossil fuels. I would also like to see a more diverse energy matrix, including more solar and biomass. And more resources employed in our protected wildlife areas. These among a very broad agenda we still have for the next two years.