Constituent engagement key in transitioning to renewable energy in Mexico

For Mexico’s Isthmus of Tehuantepec to successfully transition to such renewable energy forms as wind power, its government must more fully engage constituents in implementation, execution and profit strategies, according to a new report by Rice anthropologists.


In the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded project “The Political Culture of Wind Power Development in Southern Mexico,” Cymene Howe, assistant professor of anthropology, and Dominic Boyer, professor of anthropology, examined wind power development in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec region of Oaxaca, Mexico. The authors said that while Mexico is heavily dependent on both fossil-fuel production and consumption, it has set one of the most ambitious targets for clean-electricity generation — 35 percent by 2024 – of any nation.

The authors conducted 16 months of fieldwork between 2009 and 2013 and focused on wind-power development in Oaxaca. Howe and Boyer found that Oaxaca’s wind sector has developed very quickly, resulting in a 1,467 percent increase that has made Mexico the second-biggest wind-power producer in Latin America after Brazil. However, development fell short of government hopes in part because of rising resistance to wind-power projects.


“In 2013, what would have been the largest single-phase wind park in all Latin America had to be abandoned because of rising resistance and violence in the region,” Howe said.

For the wind sector to expand, the authors said, the current development model, which prioritizes interests of and returns profits to international investors, developers and local Isthmus political elites, must be reshaped to include other stakeholder groups. In addition, they suggest that regional governments should receive federal funds to develop a regulatory agency with the authority to guarantee that wind-power development is truly transparent and beneficial to all stakeholder groups.

“A majority of Isthmus residents appear to favor wind-power development were its financial benefits to be more equally distributed,” Boyer said.

The authors said the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy has been identified as one of the most effective strategies humanity can pursue to rapidly reduce carbon emissions. However, international efforts to design and implement energy transition scenarios (e.g., the Kyoto Protocol) have largely failed, which put more pressure on individual countries to create their own paths to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction through energy transition.

Howe and Boyer hope their research will help the Isthmus region implement strategies that can be used throughout Mexico and in other countries seeking to reduce GHG.

“Scientists regard the reduction of GHG emissions as among the most urgent challenges facing humanity in the 21st century,” Howe said. “Without rapid action to reduce emissions, scientists predict that the world will face significant climatological, geological and biological impacts in the coming decades, including water shortages and unpredictable severe weather, which in turn will stress ecological systems and potentially challenge social stability.”

The report was funded by the NSF and is available online at The material is based upon work supported by the NSF under Grant No. NSF BCS-1127246. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NSF.

About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.