BRAZIL -- It's one of those stories everyone's talking about, at least in Brazil's wind energy space. And it should come as no surprise. Under its newly launched energy expansion plan, the government intends to boost installed wind power generation capacity to 11.5 GW by 2020 from a mere 1.5 GW now, bringing new and exciting investment opportunities for developers and entrepreneurs.
"Everyone's excited and there are hundreds of projects planned," says Jonathan Kendall, founding partner of Rio Energy Consulting - TSS Brazil.
This fact has of course not been lost by industry heavyweights such as Gamesa, Iberdrola, Vestas and Alstom, which are licking their chops in anticipation of a string of upcoming auctions that will put at lest 6 GW of capacity on the block by 2015.
Accroding to Ricardo Baitelo, Greenpeace's renewable energy campaign coordinator in Sao Paulo, the future tenders will also be more profitable. This is because the government is poised to introduce equipment-import and other tax breaks, as well as cheaper financing rates through Brazil's development bank BNDES, to make it all happen.
Baitelo says a European-style feed-in tariff is not contemplated, however.
"The production price will go down to 200 reais (US$111) or even 100 reais (US$55) from around 300 reais (US$166) now," once the government introduces the incentives, he adds.
According to Baitelo, the expansion is so aggressive that wind farms could very well overtake natural gas thermal plants as Brazil's second-power generation source in five years, moving right behind the number one source — hydroelectric power.
"Right now the majority of the thermal power plants are running on natural gas, accounting for five percent of generation, though there is a small percentage of oil and diesel, accounting for four percent and coal for 1.8 percent," Baitelo explains. "But the government doesn't want to build more fuel-powered plants after 2015 as oil and biodiesel are more expensive to import and more polluting."
That is why wind, as well as biomass, are expected to see huge development in coming years, observers say.
According to Elbia Melo, CEO of the Brazilian Windpower Association, building a wind power plant in Brazil has become 70 percent cheaper than it was seven years ago.
She says a significant addition of 100-meter towers in recents years has sharply boosted windmill's generation/cost equation (as the new towers produce significantly more electricity) compared to the older facilities running on 50-meter towers.
She says some developers' plans to begin building 120-meter towers should boost productivity even more. At the same time, Melo claims Brazil has become the world's most coveted wind power market.
"China purchases everything it needs to build its own farms domestically while India buys from China so European and U.S. developers are left with Brazil as the only real viable market," she adds.
Wind power generation prices have also fallen to around 100 reais (US$55) per MWh versus 50-55 (US$27-30) MWh for hydropower, making the technology much more competitive than in the past.
"The government wants consumers to get the best power price and they can definitely do this with wind now," Melo boasts, adding that growing environmentalist complaints against state plants to boost hydropower by 10 GW by 2015 (mainly because the new projects would cut through the Amazon forest, negatively impacting its ecosystem and displacing its indigenous populations) could encourage the state to favour more wind projects.
Minus 5 and Minus 3 Auctions
As the state works to ramp up its renewables development, the Minus 5 wind power auction is planned in December when 2 GW of capacity for parks scheduled to be built five years will be put on the block. In 2012, a Minus 3 and Minus 5 auctions should also hand another 2 GW to private developers.
"The idea is to tender at lest 2 GW per year until the  objective is met," Melo says.
North and South Build Up
According to Belo, the latest government auction, managed by main electricity regulator Aneeel, saw 1 GW handed to state-owned power firm Electrosur and another 1GW to five companies, most of which are Brazilian except Italy's Enel.
The five firms plan to install the farms in Brazil's windy northeast regions of Bahia, Ceara, Rio Grande do Norte and Sergipe. Meanwhile, Electrosur is expected to build most wind farms in Porto Alegre, Southern Brazil, Belo says
Overall, Belo boasts Brazil's wind power potential stands at 300 GW compared to an estimated 100 GW in 2001 when the smaller towers and older technologies were considered. That is nearly triple Brazil's current installed power generation capacity of 115 GW.
Because of its large sugar cane bagasse, wood and other plant and animal waste resources, industry observers were unsurprised the state wants to boost biomass capacity to 9.1 GW from 7.3 GW. Between 2011-2015, capacity will increase 62 percent.
But what many wondered why the government has failed to launch an official development scheme for solar power.
"That's because it's very expensive," Melo says, at some 600 reais (US$333) per MWh.
"In Brazil we have large renewable resources, first hydro and then wind and biomass so we prefer to invest in sources that bring good power prices to consumers."
However, she adds solar PV costs are sliding, encouraging the state to consider solar for which she predicts it will launch a large-scale development scheme in December 2012.