El Cuá, Nicaragua: Community-owned hydropower transforms rural economy

Association of Rural Development Workers – Benjamin Linder (ATDER-BL)

Residents of the northern highlands of Nicaragua were typically overlooked by modern infrastructure development. The Association of Rural Development Workers has changed this, securing access to electricity and clean drinking water for local people for the first time. Today the association is also generating enough profits from hydro power to fund US$300,000-worth of development in the region.

The Association of Rural Development Workers was founded when American engineer Benjamin Linder moved to Nicaragua in 1985 to help communities construct the first hydro project in the San Jose de Bocay region. Benjamin’s murder by Contra rebels sparked an uprising both locally and internationally, leading not only to the setting up of the association but also a renewed focus on development in the region.

Lifting of the electricity grid posts

association has had great success in mobilizing residents within the
region, including women, to participate in and take ownership of
projects. Alongside a number of community scale micro-hydro projects
that have provided electricity in the region for the first time, the El
Bote Small Hydro project located between El Cuá and San José de Bocay
supplies enough power to meet present demand in the region with
significant surplus to sell or export to the national grid at the
contract price of 6.8 cents per kWh. In three years, there will be an
additional US $300,000 of revenue available that will be re-invested in
further development projects for the region.

Before the
construction of this plant, many generations of families had never had
access to electricity. The plant has been the driving force behind the
thriving economy of El Cua today. Moreover, drinking water systems that
capitalize on pristine mountain water resources tapped into for the
hydro-electricity plant has given families in the region access to clean
drinking water. Thirteen separate installations have been made in towns
within the region to date. Prior to this source, families predominantly
relied on the contaminated Bocay river for drinking water, cooking and
household needs.

“This project addressed basic needs for water and energy with a lot of local volunteer labour and some local democratic supervision based on local public ownership.”

– Evaluator David Sogge

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Or visit atder-bl.org/

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