COHESSA’s Valle Solar plant began operations in 2015. © COHESSA
Jose Maria Reyes, who lives in a rural village near Nacaome, in southern Honduras, is an unlikely proponent of solar power.
When he first heard that a solar plant would be built near his home, he and his neighbors believed the rumors circulating locally—that the plant would cause extreme heat waves, make people sick, and burn birds. But then representatives from the Compañía Hondureña de Energía Solar (COHESSA), which runs the power plant, reached out to Reyes and fellow villagers to show how they and the region would benefit.
COHESSA’s efforts to engage with communities surrounding the plant made a difference for residents like Reyes, who saw firsthand, even before construction began, that the company was tuned into the residents’ most pressing needs.
This emphasis on outreach and communication is a bedrock element of the IFC Performance Environmental and Social Standards, which require that all projects we finance establish open, beneficial relationships with neighboring communities. COHESSA focused on educating people about solar energy and setting mechanisms to voice concerns—establishing high standards for the project.
Honduras is one of the poorest countries in Central America. In Reyes’ village, most people live below the poverty line. Regional needs were especially great in sectors such as water, education, health, and infrastructure. COHESSA recognized that to make a long-term contribution, it needed to help communities develop their capacity to organize, authorize, and prioritize tasks—so they could act in their own interests.
The solution was the creation of a community group charged with managing funds provided to project-affected communities by companies that operate there. This group included representatives of five neighboring communities and COHESSA. Under this structure, community members and their leaders work together to select projects that the board will evaluate and implement, in coordination with the local government. Funding, technical support, and supervision are all provided, but the community takes an active role in developing projects with the greatest potential to improve residents’ lives and futures.
In Nacaome’s extremely dry environment, for example, water is a priority—so the community decided on the installation of a new hand-operated water pump that restored water access to 30 families in El Juancho. A 60-year-old well in which El Tapetate’s villagers washed clothes and gathered water has been transformed into a roofed washing facility with an enhanced well, new washing stations, and a children’s park. And thanks to continuing community input, COHESSA is in conversations with nongovernmental organization Agua Viva to guide the communities in developing new distribution systems that bring clean water to more households in the area.
Other community-led programs address road repairs, deliver medicine to El Cohete’s health center, provide supplies and desks (made out of recycled solar panels packaging) for schools in 12 villages, and offer a school meals program that helps decrease dropout rates. Trainings for local employees in first aid and fire incident response were given in partnership with the Red Cross and Nacaome’s Fire Brigade.
COHESSA’s 70-megawatt-peak solar plant began operations in mid-2015 under a Power Purchase Agreement with state-owned utility Empresa Nacional de Energia Eléctrica. The initiative is part of a government effort to diversify the country’s electricity supply, improve the reliability of the power grid, and increase clean energy production. This also includes the 2013 law for the use of renewable resources, which requires companies to devote a percentage of its earnings to communities affected by new projects.
In addition to providing financing to the project, IFC helped COHESSA meet and surpass state requirements. Now, other companies operating in the region are considering the adoption of IFC Performance Standards on Environmental and Social Sustainability, which are a global benchmark of sustainability practices.
These standards are especially important in challenging contexts like Honduras. Ultimately, though, the biggest endorsements come from individual residents like Reyes, who tracked the transformation of his community. After the solar plant started operations nearby, “We are healthy and better off,” he says. “Today I assure people from distant villages, and even the mayor, that all is good.”
To learn more about IFC’s work in environmental and social sustainability, visit: www.ifc.org/sustainability, and in infrastructure, visit: www.ifc.org/infrastructure.
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Published in October 2016