North-east of Venezuela, before the islands of Aruba and Curaçao, a heavenly enclave floats on the turquoise and crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean Sea. Reaching Punta Macolla, this story’s setting, is truly complicated. If luck and the rains allow it, we will require a 4×4 vehicle and several hours on the road to finally cut through shrubs and skirt puddles and reach a small town of simple, hospitable, seafaring folk, always happy to welcome new visitors.
According to the last census, Punta Macolla has 141 inhabitants. Its main activities are fishing and goat farming and, until a few months ago, the town had no water, electricity, or phone services. Several miles west, we find the Perla project, an off-shore natural gas development initiative located within the Cardón IV field and co-operated by ENI and Repsol. One of the main objectives shared by the two companies is the development of local communities. On coming into contact with the area’s reality, they were able to grasp Punta Macolla’s needs better.
The inability to access energy sources had an impact on all aspects of the town’s life, but fishers were the most severely affected. Unable to conserve their catch in chest freezers, they were forced to sell it off quickly and, many a time, at excessively low prices. “To refrigerate the products, we had to spend a lot of money to buy ice every three days. Now, thanks to the generator, we have a freezer, 10 bulbs, and the radio, which we alternate, to plug in the blender,” fisherman Miguel Amaya explains.
Miguel Amaya, fisherman from Punta Macolla.
To set this project in motion in 2011, a team from the company’s area supporting the local community near Cardón IV spent several months designing an energy plan that would allow for the installation of an efficient and sustainable system, suited to the difficulties surrounding access to the area. To achieve this, several wind hybrid power systems were set up with the support of the Fundación para el Desarrollo del Servicio Eléctrico (“Foundation for the Development of Electrical Services”, FUNDELEC) and PDVSA Industrial.
The result took electricity to 12 homes, the Punta Macolla school, and the preliminary facility of what will be developed into an outpatient’s clinic in coming years. “Life out here has always been quiet. The only difference now is that we have electricity. My mom, who’s 91, had never had electricity. Ever since the windmill (wind turbine) was set up, the night is bright,” local Carlos Padilla explains.
Carlos Padilla, local goat farmer.
For this goat farmer, the biggest difference lies in the possibilities afforded his goat farming business by electricity. “With the milk we get from the goats, we make curd and cheese, which we can store in the fridge. We keep the rest of the milk for ourselves at home, in the fridge.”
This program also aims to make the citizens of Punta Macolla fully independent, enabling them to solve possible power cuts themselves. To this end, a training program was organized with the Venezuelan company Fundelec. Now, when a wind turbine experiences any problems, the locals themselves know how to fix them: “Our quality of life has improved, we are extremely happy. When the big system (hybrid power system) fails, I still have power, that’s a huge advantage,” says Maribel Reyes, mother of three.
Maribel Reyes, next to the wind turbine installed at her home.
Every local has their own, unique way of telling this story, but this particular resident of Punta Macolla summarizes it this way: “Xavi, my youngest son, can now watch his toons and, since he’s afraid of the dark, he keeps the light on at night and sleeps much better.”