Costa Rica got 100 percent of its electricity from renewables for 75 days straight this year, the state-run Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) announced this week.
The Latin American country hasn’t had to use fossil fuels at all so far in 2015, due to heavy rains that have kept hydroelectric power plants going strong. Wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal energy have also helped power the country this year.
“The year 2015 has been one of electricity totally friendly to the environment for Costa Rica,” ICE announced in a press release in Spanish this week.
This reliance on renewables has prompted the country to lower electricity rates by 12 percent. ICE predicts that rates will continue to drop for Costa Rican customers in the second quarter of the year.
In 2009, Costa Rica announced its goal of becoming carbon-neutral by 2021. Already, Costa Rica gets about 88 percent of its total electricity from renewable sources. Hydroelectric plants supply the bulk of that electricity — 68 percent — while geothermal plants provide about 15 percent, wind power provides 5 percent, and solar and biomass also contribute slightly to the country’s energy mix.
Costa Rica’s reliance on hydroelectricity makes it vulnerable to climate change, however. A drought or even a slight change in rainfall patterns could disrupt Costa Rica’s supply of hydro energy, and since climate change is likely to alter rainfall patterns — making the rainy season come early or late, for instance — hydroelectric power could be disrupted in the future.
Last year, Costa Rica’s Legislative Assembly approved a $958 million geothermal project. The country will get help paying for the project from the Japanese International Cooperation Agency and European Investment Bank. And in 2012, ICE announced that it would be developing 100 megawatts worth of wind farms and 40 megawatts worth of small-scale hydroelectric plants through 2015.
“In the case of electricity, the aim is to stop burning petroleum derivatives,” Ulises Zuniga Blanco, an engineer at ICE, told Bloomberg in 2012. “The projects included in this process will contribute to this objective of carbon neutrality.”
Costa Rica has been lauded in the past for its policies on environmental protection and conservation. In 2010, the country was awarded the Future Policy Award from the World Future Council, which recognized Costa Rican policies that use funds from fees and taxes to pay for preserving natural spaces. Costa Rica also pays landowners to plant trees and not cut down old-growth forests, a policy that helped increase forest cover in the country from 24 percent in 1985 to 46 percent in 2010.
Part of the reason why Costa Rica can devote so much funding to environmental issues is that the country abolished its military in 1948, allowing it to divert funds that would have gone towards defense needs to the environment, healthcare, and education.
“We are declaring peace with nature,” Costa Rican ambassador Mario Fernández Silva said in 2010. “We feel a strong sense of responsibility about looking after our wealth of biodiversity. Our attitude is not progressive, it is conservative. Our view is that until we know what we have, it is our duty to protect it.”