Costa Rican Leaders and Businesses Promote Energy Efficiency Programs

I recently met with Costa Rican leaders and business executives about using energy efficiency to help Costa Rica meet its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2021.

Talking with them was a breath of fresh air. It’s a relief to know that even as some U.S. lawmakers continue to deny the existence of climate change and some tried to hold the entire federal budget hostage in part because they did not want the Environmental Protection Agency to limit carbon pollution, other nations are busy trying to solve the climate threat.

And American businesses in Costa Rica are helping get the job done.

While I was in San Jose, several NRDC colleagues and I had lunch with the American Ambassador to Costa Rica Anne Andrew.  Ambassador Andrew invited members of the American Chamber of Commerce to join us, so we could hear how the private sector is helping the nation meet its carbon neutrality goal.

The head of Wal-Mart in the region spoke about the retailer’s effort to promote compact florescent light bulbs. These bulbs use only one-fourth of the power conventional bulbs do, last up to 10 times longer, and save consumers money on their monthly electricity bills.

We also heard from the head of Coca Cola in Central America, with whom I discussed efficiency programs such as a possible effort to swap out old, energy-hogging refrigerators with newer, more efficient models. Considering that refrigerators are the second largest users of electricity after light bulbs, this program could significantly reduce the nation’s power demand—and the need to build more power plants.

These are just two of the many efficiency programs that can bring major cost and energy savings to Costa Rica. To help the nation develop more of these measures, NRDC is supporting local partners in the Ministry of Environment & Energy, the Costa Rican Institute of Electricity, the University of Costa Rica and the Costa Rican Petroleum Refinery implement an Energy Efficiency Center in San Jose.

The center will provide training and capacity building, promote energy efficiency programs, and provide information about how to finance efficiency programs.

NRDC will also push for greater investment in energy efficiency. Costa Rica just spent $360 million to build a 200 megawatt bunker fuel power plant in Garabito, and it will have to pay millions more every year to buy fuel for the plant. The new plant will burn over 32 million gallons of fuel per year – spewing 400,000 tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every year.

Instead of investing in more polluting plants, the government should direct a portion of that funding into launching a 200 megawatt energy efficiency program. It could meet the same amount of demand, but do it in a much cheaper, faster, and cleaner way.

The 200 megawatt program is just the beginning. Large-scale efficiency measures in Costa Rica could help avoid the need to build the equivalent of three 250 MW plants by 2018 -- meaning potential savings of $310 million.

NRDC hopes that the Energy Efficiency Center in San Jose can help achieve these savings. And maybe even share some of its successes with the large neighbor to the north—the United States.