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RP wind farm: 'Green' power lures tourists to Bangui

BANGUI, Philippines (Xinhua) - Twenty-something entrepreneur Leia Nagal was amazed the first time she saw the windmills that lined the shore of Bangui, a remote coastal town in northern Philippines. She visited the renown wind farm in April 2007, upon the recommendation of some friends and the local tourism department, as she and her business partners are planning to include a visit in Bangui in the itinerary of a tour package that they plan to sell later that year.

"The windmills are so beautiful. Wow!" Nagal recalled in an interview with Xinhua. She snapped up some photos and posted them in the company's website. Friends and clients saw the photos, liked what they saw and asked Nagal to include a visit to Bangui in their future tours.

In November 2007, Nagal's company, Travel Factor, started offering the Photoholic Ilocos Tour. The four-day tour package caters to photo hobbyists keen on expanding their portfolio by taking shots of famous sites in the provinces of Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur. The itinerary includes not only a visit to the usual sites which the two provinces are known for - waterfalls, historic churches and ancestral houses. But it also includes a two- hour stop in Bangui, where shutterbugs just can't get enough of the majestic windmills. The initial tour was such a hit, with over 40 people joining and enjoying the tour.

The windmills of Bangui started its operations in 2005. They provide a more environment friendly source of energy to the province of Ilocos Norte, by harnessing the wind coming from the South China Sea into electricity. The Northwind Power Development Corp, a group of Dutch and Filipino investors and engineers, operates the wind farm, obtained a $40 million loan from the Danish Development Agency (DANIDA) and built the windmills under the build-operate-and-own scheme.

Plant Manager Dino Tiatco said that making the windmills a tourist site was not really in the cards. These windmills, 15 of them, each about 70 meters tall, were there just to supply power to the Ilocos Norte Electric Cooperative and generate electricity for the province.

But the novelty of these windmills, the only one of its kind in the Philippines and the rest of the Southeast Asian region, has piqued the curiosity not only of locals but Filipinos from other parts of the Philippines who have seen images of these windmills in TV, newspapers and the Internet.

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This has made the windmills not only a source of clean energy, but also a major tourist attraction. Several enterprising individuals, taking note of increasing tourist arrivals, have set up shop and selling snacks, souvenir t-shirts and even miniature windmills made of bamboo to tourists.

Tiatco said that the fact that the windmills is a tourist site is just a bonus. "We never advertised. They (tourists) just came here," he said.

Tiatco welcomes the busloads of tourists that flock to the area, especially during weekends and the summer season of March to May. Some of them are primary and high school students go there as part of their field trips, while others are a group of friends and/or families who just want to take souvenir photos of their trip.

"But there are some tourists who are asking questions about windmills and wind power and I'm usually there to answer their questions," he said.

Indeed, the windmills of Bangui also opened up new avenues of learning for tourists who go to Bangui and who want more than another photo of the windmills.

Windmill technology is new in the Philippines and Filipino engineers who are now working in Bangui had to be sent to Denmark to learn the mechanics of operating a windmill.

This time around, numerous engineering students are flocking to Bangui, and curious not only with the windmill itself, but more on how the windmill really works. Some even applied as apprentices, according to Tiatco.

But for the likes of Nagal, and her fellow "photoholic" tourists, the windmills of Bangui is just another reason to visit the many sites that Ilocos Norte has to offer.

Three years after Travel Factor launched the Photoholic Ilocos Tour, that this package remains one of the company's most popular products, according to Nagal. The tour company is offering this package four times a year. And clients will always request for a stopover in Bangui windmills, asking that they go there either on dawn or sunset - perfect for those dramatic shots.

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