Women’s Empowerment through Wind Power

A feminist education takes place both inside the classroom and out in the world.

This semester, my classmates and I are tackling women, gender, and technology. We spent the first Saturday of October at Rizal Wind Farm in Pililla, Rizal.

Where we went

We met up bright and early in Quezon City. Before heading to the wind farm, our two-car convoy made a quick stopover along Sumulong Highway in Antipolo. There, a long line of stalls sold brooms and a variety of delicacies. Our purchases included nuts, ube, okoy, and honey – just a few of the foods they had to offer. Since the vendors get their nuts (peanuts, cashew nuts, pistachios, and more) direct from the source, they’re sold much cheaper than they would be at a grocery store or specialty store.

We got back on the road and arrived at Rizal Wind Farms after about two hours. Even before we reached the parking area, we could see the towering wind turbines standing in a row. There are a total of 27 of them, each of which generates about two megawatts of electricity. All together, they can power almost 66,000 Metro Manila households continuously.

Each tower stands at 125 meters tall. That’s way too long to fit on the back of a truck, so the towers were transported to the site in three separate parts, then assembled in Pililla. Because they are so huge, you can only see a few of them from the ground. But for a small fee of ten pesos, you can access the view deck and get a better look at all of the turbines.

Where it came from

Origins

Humans have been harnessing wind energy for thousands of years. Wind-powered grain mills and water pumps existed as early as A.D. 500, and perhaps the oldest and simplest use of wind power is that of the sail boat, which still has applications today in the form of parasailing and windsurfing.

The first ever windmill was designed by Daniel Halladay in Connecticut, USA, in 1854. It was widely used on farms and ranches to pump water. Aside from keeping fields watered in the summer and keeping people and livestock hydrated, windmills were also used to obtain water needed to operate steam-driven engines.

Sketches from 1850. Source

The first wind turbine to generate electricity was created by Charles F. Brush in Cleveland, Ohio in 1888. These ancestors of modern wind turbines stood at a humble 17 meters high, had 144 wooden rotor blades, and produced only about 12 kilowatts of electricity. Many of the same farmers and ranchers using windmills to pump water also took advantage of small wind-powered electric generators. They became essential to remote locations that didn’t have the ease of access to electricity that the bigger cities did.

In the Philippines

Bangui Wind Farm in Bangui, Ilocos Norte, was the first wind farm in the Philippines. It was commissioned in 2005 and began operations with 15 wind turbines. A number of turbines have been added since then, and the Bangui Wind Farm provides roughly half of the electricity used in Ilocos Norte. Its success ushered in the establishment of Burgos Wind Farm in Burgos and Caparispisan Wind Farm in Pagudpud, also in the Ilocos Norte Region.

Bangui Bay. Source

Wind power was introduced in Southern Luzon in Oriental Mindoro back in 2011. In Visayas, the San Lorenzo Wind Farm began operations in Guimaras in 2014. Most recently, Nabas Wind Farm in Aklan province was commissioned in 2015, and talks of expansion are underway.

As of July 2016, the Philippines has the greatest cumulative installed capacity for the generation of wind power out of all ASEAN countries.

How it works

Wind energy is a means of generating electricity without the use of fossil fuels. Utilizing the natural force of wind makes for a clean and relatively inexpensive way of producing energy.

In order to generate power, the blades of the wind turbines catch the wind as it blows. When they turn, generators convert the mechanical energy into electrical energy. That energy is then transported from the power plant to the distribution utility through transmission lines. Eventually, it reaches individual households where it can be used to turn on lights, television sets, electric fans, chargers, and all kinds of appliances.

Pililla is an ideal venue for a wind farm for a couple of reasons. The first and most obvious is that it experiences strong wind. This is because of its location by the Laguna de Bay, among tall mountains. Second is the city’s proximity to Metro Manila. Metro Manila has the highest demand for electricity in the whole country, and power coming from Pililla only needs to travel a short distance to reach thousands of Manila households.

By establishing more sources of wind energy in the Philippines, we inch closer to our goal of energy security. With energy security, we won’t need to rely on costly foreign sources of fuel like coal and oil. We can get wind right here in the motherland, and it’s free.

One more reason why wind energy is efficient is the coincidence of peak demand times for electricity and peak production time of wind power. Air conditioning units are likely to be running from 12:00 noon to 4:00 PM when the heat really starts settling in. TV sets and light fixtures get the most use in the evening, from around 6:00 to 8:00 PM. In these time slots, the wind blows the strongest in Pililla, generating peak loads of electricity.

Why it matters

Having electrical power in the home changes our day-to-day routines. Tanja Winther, Margaret Matinga, Kirsten Ulsrud, and Karina Standal consolidate some of the positive effects of electrification in women’s lives in their study “Exploring Factors that Enhance and Restrict Women’s Empowerment through Electrification“:

  • India: Women without electricity spent about 12 hours per month collecting fuel for light and cooking while men spent about six hours doing the same. After electrification, all of them reduced their time by 3.3 hours per month.
  • Nicaragua: After electrification, women spent 45 minutes per day collecting fuel while men spent 65 minutes per day collecting fuel – about one hour less than the time they needed to do so without electricity. This was partly due to the increased use of gas stoves for cooking.
  • Philippines: After electrification, domestic duties including gathering firewood was reduced by one hour per day.

Although an extra hour or so doesn’t seem like much, it makes a big difference in the time dedicated to caring for a family’s basic needs. And it’s not just time – collecting fuel or firewood is also physically taxing. Having electricity in the form of artificial light is also a game changer because it allows for household chores to be performed more efficiently than, for example, a kerosene lamp.

(c) David Gilkey/NPR. Source

Munda women of India’s Sundarbans first benefited from solar power in 2011 and found it easier to cook when they could keep an eye on a boiling stew and chop onions at the same time. More importantly, having light after sundown helped them protect themselves and their families from getting bitten by snakes or attacked by tigers.

Regardless of gender or economic class, everyone has it easier with electricity. But gender and economic class might determine what tasks are being made easier for you. Caroline Moser explains that in most societies, low-income women have a triple role of reproductive, productive (paid), and community managing tasks. The examples mentioned – maintaining the household, cooking, and caring for children – fall under “reproductive work”. While men may share in these responsibilities, more often, they are receivers of care and maintenance work in the home, along with children.

This holds true in the Philippines where 212,000 married women were unemployed in 2017. This represents only a fraction of the women doing reproductive work, which expands to unmarried mothers, mothers whose marriages were annulled, and mothers who were widowed, and more. Some technically unemployed women make extra money online through writing, teaching English, virtual assistant jobs, small buy-and-sell operations, and the like – and all the more do they need electricity to generate an income.

The nature of the work is neither here nor there when women have no access to electricity in the first place. Such is the case for over two million Filipino families. That’s 19,000 barangays not covered by the government’s rural electrification program, still depending on kerosene, paper, and wood for lighting. In an age when technology is evolving by the minute, many Filipinos are getting left behind. As some parts of the world grow more connected every day, there are Filipino families who are isolated by the inability to continue living their lives after the sun sets. There are Filipino women missing out on opportunities that should only be a few clicks away.

Clean energy is good for the world – the flora, the fauna, and the women who keep it running.

One thought on “Women’s Empowerment through Wind Power

  1. Excellent Kim:-) a snatch of the Windmill energy field exposure, linking up history, recognition of the value of women’s work, women and work in the reproductive sphere, gender and energy.

    Like

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