Latin America Climate, Energy and Environment News: 3/10 - 3/16/2012


Positive news for the non-conventional renewable energy sector made headlines this week in Chile. At a solar energy conference, a senior vice-president of the international company First Solar announced that the cost of solar had dropped by 50 percent in the past three years, and is now competitive with natural gas and diesel. (El Mercurio 03/14/2012). Two new photovoltaic plants were unanimously approved in the country’s arid northern regions, bringing a combined investment of 152 million dollars and a combined installed capacity of 54 megawatts. (Revista Electricidad 03/16/2012) Four companies –one Chilean and three foreign—are racing to open the first geothermal plant in Chile by 2015. The sector has attracted a good deal of interest: by the end of 2011, the Ministry of Energy had granted approximately 70 exploration and exploitation concessions for geothermal energy. ( 03/12/2012)

The controversial HidroAysén project attracted new attention when protesters organized outside of the company’s office on March 14, the International Day of Action against Large Dams. The protesters stated “we want to reiterate to the companies involved in HidroAysén, Endesa/Enel and Colbún, that these projects are unpopular in Chile, and have been rejected by the majority of citizens for the negative impacts they would create on the communities, the local economies and the ecosystems.” ( 03/14/2012)

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) announced its support for a carbon emissions tax in Chile to disincentivize more fossil fuel-powered electricity generation. The government’s proposal for such a tax has caused significant controversy among the electricity sector operators. (Economia y Negocios 03/16/2012)

A new study conducted by the University of Chile and commissioned by the British Embassy found that the carbon footprint on Easter Island is three times as high as the national average. After four months of data collection, the experts found that the Island’s carbon footprint is 12.2 tones of CO² compared with the national average of 4.4. The main contributor to this high level is the increasing amount of air travel bringing tourists to and from the island, which accounts for 46 percent of the total. Excluding air traffic, the carbon footprint of Easter Island’s citizens would be equal to the national average. (La Tercera 03/14/2012)

Costa Rica

Electricity consumption in Costa Rica has decreased by 9% over the past five years.  The lower consumption reflects, in part, the fact that many consumers have switched to more efficient appliances and lighting. Costa Rican energy companies have promoted public education on energy efficiency and helped provide low cost efficient light bulbs. A 2008 proposal by the Instituto Costaricense de Electricidad to switch out inefficient refrigerators ultimately failed due to lack of financial support, but that idea is now being re-evaluated by another company. (La Nación (3/12/2012)

San Jose’s mayor Johnny Araya is proposing an electric tram that would help reduce the city’s traffic congestion. According to Araya, the 260,000 vehicles that cross the city every day take up 70% of the roads but transport only 30% of the people.  A feasibility study for the tram, which should help improve the transportation sector’s efficiency, is expected to be ready in late April. (La Nación 3/17/2012)


The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) defended its position in granted several permits the controversial Cabo Cortés proposed tourism complex near Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park, as environmental groups, civil society associations and NGOs again raised their voices for the protection of the Parks’ coral reef. ( 03/09/12). Several famous figures recently joined these groups, including Jean Michael Cousteau, son of Jacques Cousteau –the famous explorer who dubbed the Gulf of California “the World’s Aquarium"—who stated, “we need to be sure that whatever's going to be built there is small enough not to cause an impact similar to (what's occurred) in other areas and that they don't build another Cancún." (Octavo Dia 03/10/12). About ten Mexican actors and musicians also joined the public campaign against Cabo Cortés by demanding that President Felipe Calderón cancel the tourism project. (Diario La Estrella 03/13/12)

The first stage of “Luz Sustentable” (“Sustainable Light”) program failed to meet its goal of replacing 23 million 100-watt light bulbs. According to  Jaime Salazar, a member of the Board of the National Association of Dealers in Electrical Equipment, the lack of dissemination of information about the program was an important factor that limited the success of “Sustainable Light.” (Manufactura.MX 02/22/12)


On March 5th, President Rafael Correa signed the first large-scale mining contract in Ecuador, initiating these activities with the Chinese company Ecuacorrientes (ECSA). The signing of the contract caused immediate reactions by members of the National Assembly and environmental groups. Since January, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador

(CONAIE) and other social movements have been opposed to this mega-mining project and have been organizinga march called "March for Water, Life and Dignity for People" from the village of El Pangui, Zamora Chinchipe, through eight provinces, and ending in Quito on March 22nd, World Water Day. The CONAIE estimates that 5,000 people will meet in the Ecuadorian capital that day for the demonstration. (Noticias Aliadas 03/15/12)

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.