Day 5: It’s Not Easy Being Green – Energy – In Mexico

February 13, 2012

Photo by Jose Luis Jiménez
One of seven points that jut out into Scorpion Bay.

Baja California Travel Blog

Read more about our travels on the peninsula.

SAN JUANICO, MX – After three days heading south into Baja California, we reach our main target: picturesque San Juanico. This is about as remote as you can get on the peninsula. The tranquil village is walled by tall mesas to the east and sheltered from the Pacific Ocean to the west by points jutting out into Scorpion Bay. The next closest town with a gas station is about 100 miles to the south.

It’s this remoteness that makes it such a beautiful, serene place. It’s this remoteness that prompted residents to produce green energy to power the tiny town. Sort of…

The tallest structures are small, white windmills spinning in the breeze. Next to them are solar panels. They are connected to power lines that run throughout the town, providing electricity to dozens of buildings. Those who live on the outskirts rely on solar panels and batteries to power their dwellings. They do not have luxuries such as a refrigerators, because they use too much power.

This is part of a utopian vision for a California environmentalist — a town that produces no greenhouse gases. That is, when it works.

The pressures of development have reached this remote hamlet, as it has many other locales in the Mexican state of Baja California Sur. More on this issue in an upcoming story from Reporter Jill Replogle and Video Journalist Katie Euphrat.

Photo by Jose Luis Jiménez
Windmills that produce green electricity in San Juanico, MX.

Demand has outgrown the capacity of the windmills and solar panels to produce green electricity, stressing the system and causing it to constantly break down.

The solution? Old-fashioned carbon-based fuels, as in a diesel generator, which was powering the town during our visit. And by the end of the year, they hope to be connected to Mexico’s electrical grid, which runs mostly on oil.

The town considers this progress. Ironically, as I explained to several residents, their original solution is considered progress in California.

The remoteness extends to communications: There is no connection to Mexico’s telephone system. But people have figured out that at certain times of the day, they can get reception from a cell phone tower to the south. In case of an emergency, the Mexican government provides a telefono rural (rural phone) that is available to anyone. It either works by radio or satellite; the locals are not sure.

Photo by Jose Luis Jiménez
Fishermen return with the catch of the day in the waters off San Juanico, MX.

Internet and television are available, with a satellite dish. Want to use wi-fi at the local restaurant -- actually, the only restaurant open at this time? That will be 30 pesos por favor. It costs money to send that Facebook “Like” up into space and back down again.

At least the government recently paved the road all the way into town.

The development battle lines in San Juanico are turned upside down. Usually, its outsiders who envision shiny new hotels full of foreign tourists, while, the locals fight to maintain the status quo.

Here, it’s the residents who want development, to grow the tiny local economy and provide a better life for their children. Tourists, mostly the surfers who frequent Scorpion Bay, want to keep the near-perfect breaks to themselves.

Photo by Jose Luis Jiménez
A San Juanico gas station; fuel is stored in drums.

Who’ll win? ¿Quien Sabe? (Who knows?) But one thing is clear: It’s not easy being environmentally green when there are greenbacks to be had.

Next stop: whale watching, Mexican style. And please don’t tell the bosses we might actually do something fun.

I leave you with a video of a surfer catching a wave. Watch how quickly he stands up at the end of the ride. Please, don't be green with envy ...

Catching A San Juanico Wave