Canary Islanders bring next-tech lessons to San Antonio

Alfonzo Chiscano, president of Friends of the Canary Islands, prepares to introduce his necktie to his handkerchief.

Greg Harman

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Canary Islanders represented a good portion of the European settlement stock of colonial San Antonio, ultimately helping transform the San Antonio River's headwaters into an organized system of canals for drinking and irrigation water hundreds of years ago.

The hits just keep on coming.

On Thursday, water experts from across the region shared the seats and stage at UTSA's downtown International Center with a team of Canary Islanders here to share their latest water-stretching engineering feats.

Thanks to the Islanders, small-scale solar-powered desalination plants have begun to pop up around Northern Africa, converting the ocean itself into a sustaining source of drinking water for small villages in Tunisia, Morocco, and Mauritania.

Makes sense for desert islands and Northern Africa, but I'm not prepared to eat crow on my mockering of ocean desal for San Anto.

That said, the collision of renewable power and desalination being demonstrated by some of our Spanishy forebears is exciting.

Consider the El Hierro Project.

El Hierro is the Island's largest land mass. The “Project” writ large is the process of making the island totally reliant on wind and sun.

It makes for good press, which is nice for a two-million population island economy ruled by 12 million annual tourists.

From Monsters and Critics:

By the end of 2009, El Hierro should be the first of the world's larger inhabited islands to generate its entire power requirements from renewable energy sources. Three windmills and two hydro-electric power plants are all that is needed to achieve this aim.

The energy project fits in well with the kind of image which tourists bosses want the island to project. For years now the local administration has been trying to sell El Hierro to tourists and businessmen as an 'ecologically-sound' island.

'We don't have the wide sandy beaches of Grand Canaria and the island is a difficult place to reach,' said Javier Morales, deputy mayor of the capital Valverde. 'That's why we have to try and exploit niches in the market such as eco-tourism or compete against mass- production on Teneriffe with our eco-friendly fruit.'

Even more exciting to renewable power wonks are plans to store wind energy in water.

All the domestic criticisms alleging renewable powers like wind and solar are hampered by their intermittent nature are laid to rest in the extremely simple plan to pump water uphill when the power from El Hierro's wind turbines is not needed (late at night, for instance, when even the most decadent of cities are tumbling into snoozes).

And when there is no wind?

“We let the water fall down when there is no wind,” said Gonzalo Piernavieja (right), of the Canary Islands Institute of Technology. As it “falls,” the water runs over a series of turbines to generate more electricity.

Though still in its “tender” phase â?? God Bless ESL speakers for unintended poetry â?? “we think in a few years we will be known worldwide.”

What does it all mean to SA?

For starters, plans by the San Antonio Water System to embark on the energy-intensive desalination of brackish water in Southern Bexar should similarly be run on renewables.

But we can expect added animosity from our rural neighbors, suggested another panelist.

Updating the old adage “Whiskey's for drinkin' and water's for fightin',” was the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality's analyst Steve Niemeyer who paraphrased regional attitudes on the wet stuff: “Mi case es su casa; Mi agua es mi agua.”

Greg Flores, Veep of Public Affairs at SAWS, added that the future of San Antonio's water needs will require additional water treaties with San Antonio's neighbors, but that “what we have found is that's very difficult to do.”

Maybe if SAWS reps put on Castillian Spanish accents and talked a bit more about life on the Islands? Just saying, it worked on this audience.


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