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Indigenous group using solar PPAs to preserve land

Illustration of a solar panel with a map of Colombia overlayed.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

An Indigenous group in Colombia has partnered with a multinational renewable energy developer on a $120 million project that will fund the community's effort to buy and protect land from unwanted development.

Why it matters: This unusual project, named Terra Initiative, may create a new revenue model for land preservation — one that other companies may look to deploy in the U.S. and other nations.

The details: Greenwood Energy, a subsidiary of Libra Group, is installing 144 megawatts of utility-scale solar arrays across six remote sites.

  • Groundbreaking is set for the fourth quarter of 2022, with the first site set to start generating electricity next year, the company tells Axios.
  • The Confederación Indígena Tayrona, the organization representing the Arhuaco people in Colombia, will be paid for each kilowatt-hour of power that the solar arrays generate.
  • Those funds will be used to buy and preserve about 460 square miles in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

By the numbers: Greenwood is pursuing multiple power purchase agreements (PPAs) to sell electricity from the panels to the grid.

  • The Confederación will be paid a 5% "environmental fee" — akin to a typical commercialization fee — by Greenwood Energy.
  • Once the projects are operational, the funds will be sufficient to buy about 3 square miles per year.
  • The rate will be indexed to account for inflation.

What they're saying: "This opens whole new possibilities of infrastructure structuring," Greenwood Energy CEO Guido Patrignani tells Axios. "The project is specifically addressing Indigenous communities that protect the environment."

Of note: Greenwood will be constructing town buildings for the Arhuaco people, with space for about 50 families per town.

  • The program also calls for job training and donating the panels to the community to own and operate after 25 years.
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