Windmills, Land and Social Difference: Two Decades of Change in La Venta, Mexico

Windmills, Land and Social Difference: Two Decades of Change in La Venta, Mexico
26 March 2020, 5.00pm - 7.30pm
Room 944, UCL Institute of Education, Bedford Way, Bloomsbury, WC1H 0AL

Gerardo A. Torres Contreras, University of Sussex

Wind energy is playing a significant role in Mexico’s energy transition, representing an investment between US $13-15 billion. The majority of this industry is located in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the narrowest point between oceans in Mexico, where 25 wind farms operate. Although scholars have studied wind energy expansion in the region, they have often neglected the long-term effects of wind energy on land dynamics and social differentiation processes. However, because of the way wind energy investments operate, this is a critical dimension. Wind energy infrastructure occupies between 5 and 7 per cent of the leased area, while the rest of the land remains productive. The town of La Venta, where the first wind farm in Latin America was installed in 1994, offers us insights in this regard. After 25 years of wind energy investment, it is possible to observe how land dynamics emerge and how processes of social differentiation are reinforced.

This paper asks how patterns of social differentiation, centred on land ownership, have evolved in La Venta as a result of wind energy investments. By analysing data on de-regularised land and by drawing on 40 interviews, this paper will argue that wind energy has accelerated patterns of social differentiation in two respects: among landowners and between landowners and landless people. Wind energy has increased social differentiation because it relies on previous land inequalities. While landowners with more than 20 hectares are able to combine windmills with investments in agriculture and cattle grazing, those with less than 20 hectares utilise the income from wind energy for basic needs, while others have been obliged to sell some of their land to support the household. By contrast, those without land have benefited from the investments, depending on their engagement with the urban economy. The wind energy industry has resulted in a local boom in non-farm activities and opportunities for employment and service provision. Again, this pattern is differentiated. While some have been able to explore successful business ventures in town, others have been forced to migrate.

The paper will therefore argue that wind energy development in La Venta has resulted in different material and social relationships between local people and wind energy, with actors benefitting (or not) in various ways, linked to patterns of social differentiation. The paper thus seeks to contribute to the debate on rural change resulting from renewable energy investments in the Global South.

All are welcome. Attendance is free. Booking is recommended

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