The conditions of the Anthropocene, and the relative novelty of renewable energy forms, demonstrate the experimental plasticity of our era. Existing infrastructures of energy, political power, and capital can resist the more revolutionary ambitions of renewable energy to mitigate climate change and promote collaborative energy production, such as community-owned wind parks. Even when states adopt bold energy transition targets, as Mexico has done, the methods of transition can be deeply problematic.

## Inaugurations

The October 2012 inauguration of the Piedra Larga wind park in Oaxaca’s Isthmus of Tehuantepec was the last of President Felipe Calderón’s many wind park ribbon-cutting ceremonies. When he served as Mexico’s secretary of energy in 2003–4, Calderón helped to accelerate his country’s commitment to wind energy. As he ended his presidential term, wind power counted for almost twenty-three hundred kilotons of carbon dioxide reduction in Mexico annually. Calderón’s speech on that day was neither triumphant nor a swan song; instead, it pivoted between hope and precarity (fig. 1). He began with droughts, some of the most severe ever seen in Mexico and, to the north, in Texas. “This is climate change,” he said to his audience of several hundred seated in front of him. “Carbon dioxide is like a sweater surrounding the earth,” heating the ocean’s waters and making for differently distributed weather. “However,” he went on, “we cannot stop using electricity or building factories. Instead, we need to make electricity with less smoke. We need to reduce emissions.” And here, in the heart of the isthmus, is where much of this effort is already taking place. In 2008 the region had two wind parks producing 84.9 megawatts of wind-generated electricity; four years later there were fifteen parks producing over 1,300 megawatts, a 1,467 percent increase that has made Mexico the second-largest wind power producer in Latin America (see GWEC 2016: 38, 53). Today the Isthmus of Tehuantepec represents the densest concentration of onshore wind development anywhere in the world.

New domestic conservation and sustainability legislation is rising across the world, and in 2012 developing countries passed twice as many environmental laws as wealthy nation-states did (Economist 2013). Suffering the effects of a changing climate, and facing diminishing oil reserves, Mexico has been both pulled and pushed toward adopting ambitious and comprehensive climate legislation that many experts consider groundbreaking (World Bank 2013). Thirty-five percent of Mexico’s energy is legally mandated to come from clean sources by 2024, with 50 percent of that currently slated to come from wind power alone (GWEC 2015: 12). With incentives to develop renewable energy, the creation of a voluntary carbon market, a phaseout of fossil fuel subsidies, and a mandate that the largest carbon pollution sectors report their emissions, Mexico’s climate laws are among the most extensive in the developing world. In 2012, before leaving office, Calderón signed the General Law on Climate Change, which formalized targets set in previous legislation, instituted a high-level climate change commission and national emissions registry, inaugurated the National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change, and coordinated federal offices to develop holistic mitigation and adaptation planning.

The effects of climate change are being acutely felt in Mexico, often in locations where economic and labor prospects are already sparse, leaving rural and agrarian populations doubly vulnerable (Eakin 2006). Mexico’s climate legislation and the growth of renewable energy infrastructures are initiatives for both mitigation and adaptation: securing an adaptive energy future through the forces of wind, solar, and hydroelectric power and mitigating the contaminative, warming effects of carbon loading the atmosphere. Accelerating renewable energy development is indicative of a growing awareness within Mexico’s political and economic sectors that adaptation to changing weather and water conditions is crucial and that renewable resources, if usefully tapped, will not only result in less carbon contamination and green power but also further enhance the country’s reputation as a leader in climate adaptation and mitigation in the developing world (Howe and Boyer 2015).

## Aeolian Extractivism

While the extractivist orientation of petropolitics has been well documented (see, e.g., Appel, Mason, and Watts 2015; Kashi 2008;,Sawyer 2004;,Sawyer and Gomez 2012), the politics of renewable energy remain relatively nascent. Sustainable energy projects have the potential to imitate the political and institutional logics informed by coal, oil, and gas (Mitchell 2011), or they might pursue different trajectories altogether. In many places in Latin America, including Mexico, efforts to address climate change must be understood against a backdrop of enduring economic and political marginalization, making low-carbon energy transition all the more precarious (Davis 2010;,Giddens 2009;,Howe 2015). Just as colonial and foreign corporate “extractivism” (Bebbington 2009;,Gudynas 2009) has benefited affluent patrons and regions at the expense of others, we see a real danger that “green capitalist” renewable energy initiatives will emerge as new modes of resource exploitation legitimized by the urgency of climate change mitigation.

In our research we found that large-scale renewable energy projects in southern Mexico tended to prioritize the interests of international investors and federal officials over local concerns about cultural and environmental impact (see also Gómez Martínez 2005). Renewable energy projects that follow the same extractive frameworks that defined colonial and carbon modernity (Mitchell 2011) could very well result in backlashes against sustainable forms of energy production (Howe, Boyer, and Barrera 2015). This would only further stall low-carbon energy transition and climate mitigation, a result that the planet can ill afford. Failure to rethink an extractive model of energy production could likewise result in deepening geopolitical inequalities and lead, possibly, to a form of climatological imperialism in which the global South is tasked with rehabilitating the (much more historically contaminative) global North. Given these challenges, we suggest that Mexico faces a fundamental paradox in its transition to renewable energy: while the state and renewable power companies have initiated a potentially powerful intervention into climate mitigation and adaptation, if they fail to fully involve local populations and account for an ongoing legacy of exploitation, they risk undermining the positive contributions that low-carbon initiatives seek. The success of renewable energy transition in Mexico and elsewhere, we believe, will depend not only on technical and economic solutions for supplanting carbon energy use but also on whether new energy projects can be enacted more equitably and with greater attention to local resource sovereignty (McNeish and Logan 2012) than has been the case with fossil fuels. We offer in this essay a detailed case study of one such effort toward changing the paradigm of renewable energy development: the plan to build a community-owned wind park near the town of Ixtepec in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico.

The research we discuss here draws upon sixteen months of collaborative ethnographic fieldwork and approximately two hundred interviews with landowners, workers, fisherfolk, and activists in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, as well as with municipal, state, and federal government officials, representatives of renewable energy corporations, development bankers, and financiers in the state capital of Oaxaca City and the nation’s capital, Mexico City. In our study we draw upon local knowledge and local concerns to call attention to the dangers of allowing—whether in the name of urgency, expediency, or inevitability—renewable energy development to repeat the inequalities and translocal bias of carbon energy extractivism. Our project has focused on charting and analyzing the relationships among all stakeholders in wind power development in Oaxaca, and we have found that while istmeños are often referred to as “partners” (socios) in energy and climate change discourses among government officials and corporate representatives, oftentimes “partnership” amounts to local elites receiving land rents for a fraction of what similar rents might look like in the United States. Ambivalence regarding the local benefits of wind power has spread across the isthmus in recent years, in some cases leading to violence. In one dramatic case, a plan to build the largest (396 megawatts) wind park in Latin America collapsed after months of protests and a series of death threats (Howe, Boyer, and Barrera 2015). It is too early to speak of a “wind curse” parallel to the oft-cited “oil curses.” But doubts are growing that wind development is anything more than another extractive enterprise foisted upon istmeños by northern elites. To rebalance the benefits afforded the windy isthmus, the community of Ixtepec is now trying to create the first community-owned wind park in Latin America. But, as we describe in some detail below, whether it will ever be permitted to exist remains an open question.

The first step toward understanding the tensions that surround the bid for community wind in Oaxaca is to analyze the foundational technopolitical instrument of Mexico’s renewable turn: the policy regime of autoabastecimiento (self-supply).

## Autoabastecimiento

In Mexico, there is only one way to receive electricity, and that is through the grid of the Federal Electricity Commission (Comisión Federal de Electricidad, or CFE). A parastatal corporation that holds a monopoly over the country’s current, the CFE is tasked with supplying electricity to the entire nation, from lower-income residents (whose bills are subsidized) to commercial customers (who pay relatively high rates for their power). According to the director of the Energy Regulatory Commission (Comisión Reguladora de Energía, or CRE), which oversees the national energy sector, there are two distinct drivers of renewable energy in Mexico: the high (commercial) cost of electricity and the country’s exceptional solar, wind, and hydroelectric resources. The CFE is required by law to buy the least expensive power available for its customers. Thus when the federal government considers the construction of a new power plant, a public tender is called by the CFE, and the winner is determined based on cost per megawatt hour offered. Effectively, renewable energy projects must compete against conventional energy sources on the basis of price, a difficult proposition given the relatively low market cost of fossil fuels.

To encourage private investors to develop electricity production from renewable sources, the CRE created different formulas in lieu of participation in the general tenders. Space in the substations was cordoned off for wind, and, in turn, private-sector developers and the CFE were allowed to enter into temporary public-private partnerships for the sole purpose of developing new high-capacity transmission infrastructure. Rather than invest directly in the development of wind parks, the CRE elected to allow the sector to be fully privatized. It saw this as a mandate of efficiency, insisting that private companies had better expertise to make optimal use of wind resources. However, more pointedly, the decision to pursue private models of renewable energy development is steeped in Mexico’s neoliberal economic model that has dominated the country since the 1980s (Gledhill 1995;,Ochoa 2001). Renewable energy, like other neoliberal ventures, makes states and populations vulnerable to the influence of corporate and capitalist interests in search of profit maximization rather than environmental or social benefits.

It is in this legislative, sociotechnical, and financial environment that Mexico’s secretary of energy and other state-level officials promoted and instituted a model of self-supply energy production for the wind resources of the isthmus. Corporate self-supply, or autoabastecimiento, requires that the companies that purchase wind park electricity—such as Walmart, Coca-Cola, and CEMEX—are also co-owners of wind power plants. Companies buy power at a locked-in, lower-than-market rate, usually for a period of twenty years. The infrastructural advantage of autoabastecimiento is that the CFE is able to auction off space in substations and, often, to oblige wind park developers to augment or build the required technical extensions and infrastructural systems that carry electrons from place to place. Autoabastecimiento now rules the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, constituting about 75 percent of wind power development in the region. As a form of energy management and financing, it has led to at least three outcomes: it has ensured the dominance of private-sector ownership of Oaxacan wind power production; it has all but guaranteed that renewable electricity will be consumed solely by corporate partners; and it has compelled private developers and investors to augment electricity infrastructure that the state is not willing, or able, to subsidize.

In a twist on the neoliberal model, the Mexican government has obligated private companies to pay for infrastructural improvements usually undertaken by the state; if wind energy corporations want to get their power to the grid, in other words, they must finance that grid. The director of the CRE was very proud—as he repeated several times during our interview—that “Mexico, unlike the gringos, has no state subsidies for renewable energy.” Instead, private energy companies are forced to take up the infrastructural slack. As one Mexico City journalist who has covered the energy sector for many years explained to us: “The [renewable energy companies] feel like they are getting a shitty deal from CFE. CFE makes them pay for their own transmission towers and for the substation … they aren’t making much on these projects. But then again where else are you going to find this kind of wind?”

That wind, of course, blows over land. The state of Oaxaca, considered by many to be the indigenous “heart” of Mexico, is equally well known for its communal property regimes that date back to the Mexican Revolution (see Binford 1985). Although the federal government retains ownership, ejido (collectively managed land) and bienes comunales (communal property) are agrarian land designations that grant stewardship to specific groups of individuals. Providing resources to landless peasants (in the case of ejidos) and with the intention to preserve indigenous peoples’ rights to their traditional lands (in the case of bienes comunales), each property regime was instituted to ensure the continuation of customary law (usos y costumbres) and pre-Hispanic forms of leadership as well as collective governance. In the isthmus both models were widely used through the 1980s, although several ejidos were semiprivatized through the Program for the Certification of Ejido Land Rights and the Titling of Urban House Plots (Programa de Certificación de Derechos Ejidales y Titulación de Solares Urbanos, or PROCEDE), a 1992 legal provision that certified land titles and registered individual landholders. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Agrarian Law Reform, and PROCEDE, coupled with the 1992 Electric Energy Public Service Law, allowed local landholders to individually contract land with private interests (such as wind power developers) and gave private-sector companies the ability to participate in electric power generation.

Despite widespread privatization, some of the best land for wind development in Oaxaca continues to be maintained as communal property. While some ejidos have elected to adopt neoliberal land reforms and have signed private contracts with wind companies, others have refused. Although much of the resistance has been to wind power in general, the comuna (communal farmers) of Ixtepec has uniquely pursued an alternative “energopolitical” path (Boyer 2014).1 The Ixtepec comuna has embraced the idea of wind development, but only as a community-owned endeavor, an unprecedented proposition in the autoabastecimiento heartland. Partnering with a nongovernmental organization (NGO), Yansa, the comuna has articulated an ambitious plan to change wind power not only in Mexico but also across the developing world. In the sections that follow we offer a more detailed ethnography of this plan, the key characters involved in its formation, and the challenges they have faced in implementing it in the context of the auto-abastecimiento policy regime.

## “This Isn’t Denmark”

We first learned of the Yansa Ixtepec project in the course of background research and quickly sought a meeting with the NGO’s founder, Sergio Oceransky. Yansa’s model is to link wind power to social development targets in Ixtepec and two nearby villages whose land would also be affected by the wind park. The resources for social development would come from a unique partnership that Yansa had designed to connect the NGO, the comuna, development banks, and socially conscious investors (Hoffmann 2012).

Oceransky was born in Spain and became increasingly interested in how renewable energy could be harnessed as a tool for social development when he worked for a renewable energy center in Denmark, where community wind has been widely institutionalized. He had heard through members of his family (his mother is Mexican) about the “wind rush” in Oaxaca as well as the rising resistance to wind park projects. He traveled to Oaxaca in 2008, spoke with residents likely to be affected by wind parks, and then went to Mexico City to meet with the industrial lobbying organization spearheading wind development in Oaxaca, the Mexican Wind Energy Association (Asociación Mexicana de Energía Eólica, or AMDEE). “Nowadays they’ve got a more polished message,” Oceransky grinned. “But back then what I was hearing from them was really outrageous, blunt, even racist. They viewed the communities as villains, ignorant people ruled by local leaders who wanted bribes and were stopping progress. I told the president of AMDEE that in other parts of the world, like Denmark, communities were being engaged more constructively as partners in wind development.” Oceransky’s comment incited a scowl from the president, and the meeting quickly devolved and ended with a thinly veiled threat: “I don’t know what you’re going to do with all this information,” said the AMDEE representative, “but I’d be careful. This isn’t Denmark. Anyone can fall off his horse here.”

Oceransky was in no way dissuaded, however. He started traveling frequently from his apartment in Mexico City to the isthmus, connecting with some of the activists working against the wind parks, who in turn had networks in the communities affected. “One of the first things was to try to shift their perspective on wind energy. For a lot of people it had become something evil, it meant giving your land to Spaniards,” he explained. But Oceransky saw another potential future that he began to share across the istmo. He was convinced that community-owned wind was possible in Mexico, and his message began to gain traction. By chance, one of the activists with whom Oceransky had spoken shared a bus ride with a comunero (comuna member) from Ixtepec who mentioned that their comuna was already trying to convince the CFE to let it build a community wind park. The CFE needed to use Ixtepecan land in order to build a new substation to collect and evacuate wind park electricity to the high-voltage arteries of the national grid. When the CFE presented the comuna with its substation plans, some voiced the idea that Ixtepec should get a community wind park in exchange, to raise revenue for the comuna. But this proposal was quickly shot down. The CFE determined that the comuna would never be able to raise adequate capital for the park, and therefore when the time came to auction access to the Ixtepecan substation, the CFE ignored the comuna’s request. However, the idea did not disappear for some members of the comuna, or for Oceransky, and they have been collaborating ever since.

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