Latin America Climate, Energy and Environment News: 10/16-10/21/2011


Despite gaining official approval from Chile’s government, HidroAysén still faces many challenges on the road to completion. The primary point of contention is how the power will be transmitted from Patagonia to Santiago. A recent discussion between HidroAysén and Energía Austral highlighted HidroAysén’s effort to both save money and minimize environmental impact by sharing a corridor with Energía Austral’s transmission lines.  (Electricidad 10/20/2011) However, another alternative has recently been discussed to address the transmission route conundrum. President Piñera’s government has engaged in negotiations with the Argentinean government to transmit the energy through Argentina in what would amount to electricity for natural gas swap. While the government sees this option that could avoid the political controversy and environmental impact of constructing a transmission line through Chilean communities and national parks, HidroAysén is strictly opposed to an Argentinean route for both economic and political reasons.  According to sources in the government a delay in the project would be “ideal” as it would prevent the transmission line becoming a political issue during upcoming elections by either renegotiate the transmission route through Argentina or postpone the project until the next party takes office. (La Tercera 10/15/2011)

 Chile’s Atacama Desert region has the highest level of solar radiation on the planet making it a key resource for solar energy. Kathy Weis, Chile’s Corporate Vice President of Government Affairs for the U.S.-based  company First Solar, noted the region’s unique combination of elements and market demand could make Chile a global energy leader in the coming years. (10/19/2011 Diario Financiero) Other noteworthy solar initiatives in Chile include Combarbalá’s first solar powered neighbourhood where 114 needy families will live in energy efficient houses powered primarily by the power of the sun.  The project is a joint initiative between the Ministry of Housing and the National Energy Commission as an effort to reduce energy consumption among vulnerable families. (Santiago Times 10/17/2011)

 Chile’s Minister of Energy, Rodrigo Alvarez, declared that Chile will not incorporate nuclear plans into its energy policy. Alvarez acknowledged that Chile’s rapidly growing energy needs will require innovative technology and a diversified energy mix but nuclear would not be included under this government. He also stressed the need for more technological research to find efficient energy alternatives. (Emol 10/17/2011)

The Supreme Court confirmed permission for the construction of the Patache and Pacific Coal Plants south of Iquique. Community organizations had contested the validity of the project’s environmental impact assessment carried out by the Regional Environmental Committee of Tarapacá. But the court overruled the appeals based on unfounded evidence. The $900 million dollar projects will continue as planned.  (Diario Financiaro 10/19/2011)

 Costa Rica

 Costa Rica has entered into a $140 million agreement with Capital Corp Merchant Banking to finance and waste-to-energy plant in Alajuela, Costa Rica. Once completed, this plant will be capable of converting 100 percent of waste into 47.4 megawatts of electricity per hour. This project is intended to aid Costa Rica in its goal to become the first carbon neutral country by 2021 by reducing the country’s carbon footprint by 4 million tons over the next decade. (PRWEB 10/19/2011)

 Costa Rica has raised concerns about the impact of Nicaragua’s dredging of the San Juan River on the Caribe Norte Wetland as part of an ongoing border dispute currently at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.  Yet environmentalists in Costa Rica point out  that other wetlands throughout the country are also under threat from fossil fuel exploration, pineapple cultivation, mining and real-estate expansion.  One of the wetlands under threat by expanding real-estate development is the Terraba Sierpe Wetland near Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula, near which the government has proposed a new international airport. Proponents of the airport have heralded its buffer zone, but critics cite a lack of transparency and communication with the local community. (Semanario Universitario 10/19, 2011)

 In a bid to increase tourism, Costa Rica’s Civil Aviation Agency is promoting a new international airport near the Osa Peninsula in southern Costa Rica. Preliminary studies have already been completed and the agency is now moving forward with acquiring the land where the project would be sited.  The project proponent also expects that the full environmental impact assessment will take place in 2012. Despite the agency’s plans for a “green” airport, concerns have been raised about the potential environmental impacts.  (Diario Extra 10/17/2011)


 A recent study carried out by the Mario Molina Center for Strategic Studies on Energy and Environment highlighted that Oaxaca and Chiapas, Mexico  generated 99% of their electricity from renewable energy.   The study sited wind, mini-hydro, geothermal, and solar as the main sources of electricity and showed that these regions held the potential to produce 5,000 kilowatts from renewable energy by 2020. The study emphasized the need for further investment in education, transportation and sustainable architecture throughout Mexico to reach their low carbon goals.  ( 10/20/2011)

 Environmental representatives from Mexico and China met this week at the 2011 International Meeting of Megaflorestais in Oaxaca to discuss their mutual interest in preserving the world’s forests.Mexico’s Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and China’s Deputy Minister of State Forestry Administration began negotiations for a bilateral cooperation for forests, green growth, and a concrete plan for combating illegal logging. (Biosfera 10/18/2011)

 Jordy Herrera Flores, the head of Mexico’s Department of Energy called for the exploitation of Mexico’s shale resources to satisfy the country’s growing energy needs.  Shale resources are an unconventional oil reserve typically requiring energy intensive extraction processes. Citing the global movement toward “unconventional energy resources,” Flores highlighted the importance for Mexico to follow suit, utilizing its natural oil assets in conjunction with alternative renewable energy methods like wind and solar power. (El Occidental 10/20/2011)

A recent report presented at the 2011 Week of Science and Innovation stated that Mexico City’s air quality is among the worst in the world because of its close proximity to the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt. Experts emphasized the need to better communicate health risks associated with high levels of air pollution to the general public. William J. Román Moguel, National Coordinator of the United Nations Development Program, suggested increased efforts in programs of waste management and environmental education to battle this growing problem. (El Universal DF 10/19/2011)

Note: The linked articles and excerpts in this post are provided for informational purposes only and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Compiled by Amanda Wheat