Recent developments call into question the validity of ICE’s claim.

Costa Rica blew-up the media at the beginning of 2015, announcing it had gone 285 days using purely renewable resources. The country was even recognized in Paris for their green achievements.

Nevertheless, not all are convinced Costa Rica has been entirely truthful with regards to energy use and production over the past year. In fact, as early as last March, The Guardian published an opinion article suggesting the nation’s early success was more likely due to climate change than infrastructure or government doings.

Did Costa Rica deserve the world’s praise?

Costa Rica still ranks median in the region for oil consumption and importation according to an infographic presented by IPD Latin America during the November SolarPlaza Conference in Panama. The Board of Costa Rican Oil Refinery (RECOPE) confirms, “the country consumes about 50,000 barrels per day.” Two-thirds of that oil, they say, goes toward transportation.

Recognizing both the nation’s need for energy security should the hydropower systems ever fail and continued dependence on hydrocarbons for transport among other activities, RECOPE took action. On December 15 they approved a plan to construct 12 new fuel storage tanks as well as a new port along the Caribbean specifically designed for petroleum ships.

Energy vs. Electricity

What happened in Costa Rica between announcing the country’s success with renewable resources at the start of the year and announcing new infrastructure for fossil fuels at the end? It turns out words matter.

On December 30, ICE claimed “99% renewable electricity generation” during 2015. That same day, the presidential office released the following energy breakdown according to Costa Rica’s energy matrix data:

  • 66% hydrocarbons
  • 18% electricity
  • 14% biomass
  • 2% coal

Sure, 99% renewable electricity looks impressive on its own, but when put into the context of Costa Rica’s energy usage on a whole, that’s 99% of 18% — meaning only 17.8% of Costa Rica’s energy came from renewable resources.

Unfortunately, many sources haven’t been careful with their choice of words. For example, one source just published:

“The majority of the country’s energy (75 percent) comes from hydropower, thanks to a vast river system and abundant rainfall, and the rest of its renewables come from geothermal, biomass, wind and solar.”

Based on the official data supplied by the Costa Rican government on the 30th, it is assumable EcoWatch meant to say, “The majority of the country’s electricity comes from hydropower…”

Similar claims have recently been made by numerous other sources.

Why Costa Rica is Losing Its Green Momentum

LOW INCENTIVES: Turning back to some of the previously mentioned sources, IPD Latin America also compared all the ways Central American countries incentivized renewable energies. Despite their supposed success, it turns out Costa Rica actually has the fewest incentives for people and businesses to make the switch to renewables.

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ENERGY PRICES: Furthermore, the aforementioned article from The Guardian discusses the still awaited drops in electricity prices as benefits that were supposed to arrive to Costa Rican residents back in April. With the early surge in renewable production, many Costa Ricans expected the price of energy to go down quickly. This belief was further perpetuated by ARESEP’s empty promises.

Of course there is more to the story, such as years of price increases that were never made and for which we now must pay the price. From the standpoint of our wallets, however, renewable energy failed Costa Rica in 2015.

NO STEADY STORY: In 2014, ICE said they would be building about three 5MW power plants. By the end of that year, only one seemed probable. Now, ICE’s Luis Pacheco is saying that 2016 will be an even better year for renewable energy due to a new hydroelectric plant that will be coming online, yet the country continues to invest in hydrocarbons.

Did Costa Rica really use 99% renewable energy in 2015?

Unfortunately, no.

Did ICE lie? The answer to this question is ‘no’ as well. Costa Rica generated 99% of their electricity usage with renewables. Nevertheless, the nation still remains dependent on fossil fuels.

The year 2016 may, as Pacheco proposed, bring forth even more renewable electricity than the year before, but until the country moves away from more destructive resources for the rest of its energy needs, further electric generation will not necessarily bring Costa Rica any closer to their goal of carbon neutrality by 2021.