Latin America Climate, Energy and Environment News: 3/25 - 3/30/2012


Energy Minister Rodrigo Álvarez quit his post unexpectedly, after agreements to settle the protests in Aysén were made without him. (La Tercera 03/27/2012) His deputy, Sergio del Campo Fayet, will cover the position until President Piñera appoints a new Energy Minister, who will be the fifth of his administration. (Revista Electricidad Interamericana 03/27/2012)

Chile’s Supreme Court made two important announcements this week. First, it ruled that the environmental approval granted to a controversial wind farm in Chiloé was unconstitutional because there was no consultation with local indigenous communities. This same project received criticism from international scientists for its likely impacts on whales that stop nearby. (La Nación 03/23/2012) The Court also announced that it would rule next week on the appeals case against the approval of HidroAysén’s mega-dams. In December, the plaintiffs’ lawyers argued that there were a number of illegal and irregular aspects of the approval process, which ended after almost three years in May 2011. (Diario Financiero 03/30/2012)

More good news in renewables development: Spanish company Ibereólica presented plans for the largest solar plant in Chile. The $2.6 billion project, called Pedro de Valdivia, is planned for the northern Antofagasta region and would have an installed capacity of 360 MW. To date, there are $3 billion of solar-related projects in Chile’s environmental impact system, which would have a combined capacity of 1,100 MW for the northern electric grid. That grid is currently 83.3 percent powered by coal. (La Tercera 03/28/2012) While in South Korea for the Nuclear Security Summit, Chilean President Sebastian Piñera and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak signed a Memorandum of Understanding to collaborate on developing tidal power. (La Tercera 03/26/2012)

Costa Rica

In April, Costa Rica’s national electricity company (ICE) is expected to submit the first phase of its environmental feasibility study for the 650 MW Diquis hydroelectric plant, proposed for the south of the country. (La Nación 3/25/2012)  As part of this process, a formal consultation with indigenous communities is also necessary. The UN Special rapporteur for indigenous peoples met with the government about this process and recommended that a neutral team carry out the consultation. (La Nación 3/27/2012). As these plans for Diquis move forward, an opinion article in La Nación newspaper highlights uncertainties about the project and invites ICE to respond to specific concerns about the project, including: possible cost overruns; whether the actual amount of energy generated could be less than project design documents claim; and greenhouse gas emissions from the construction process and dam reservoir which could amount to the emissions of a gas-fired power plant. (La Nación 3/30/2012)

The Ministry of Environment launched a national “Clean your footprint” campaign to encourage citizens to reduce their carbon footprint. The two year public education campaign will initially focus on recycling and efficient water and energy use. As part of the campaign, ten public institutions and companies also agreed to reduce their carbon footprint. (La Nación 3/27/2012) Over 70% of Costa Rica’s greenhouse gas emissions are from the carbon sector and one proposal that could help cut transportation emissions is to bring an electric tram to San José. Such a project could service 150,000 people over a 10 kilometer route.  However, it’s still not clear how much such a tram would cost or how it would be financed. (La Nación 3/28/2012)

A new campaign to increase recycling will hopefully help reduce Costa Rica’s solid waste output. Recent data shows that between 2008 and 2011, Costa Rica’s population increased by 3 percent, but waste production per month increased by 4.4% to a total of 118,000 tons per month. There is no data on how much waste is actually recycled or treated, but the Ministry of Health estimates that it is no more than 10 percent. (El Financiero 3/30/2012) 


Speaking to the Mexican Senate about the permits granted to the proposed Cabo Cortés tourism project in Baja California, the Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT), Juan Rafael Elvira Quesada, said that Cabo Cortés, is currently on hold because SEMARNAT has not granted the company a full building permit. Elvira Quesada stated that the company does not have permission to build its planned marina, and must complete a two year study of the coastal area’s currents. ( 03/23/2012) At the same time, he also said there is no other project more carefully evaluated than Cabo Cortés. The lawmakers questioned Elvira because Cabo Cortés would be adjacent to Cabo Pulmo National Park, a remarkable coral reef and UNESCO World Heritage Site declared. Senator Rubén Velázquez asked that proper care be taken of Cabo Pulmo’s reef and its wealth of marine life. Jorge Legorreta (PVEM) said that he rejected the project. Francisco Obregon (PT) asked why the project was authorized, since this company behind it is facing serious legal and financial problems in Europe. (Vanguardia 03/29/2012) Protests against Cabo Cortés took place at the same time. Greenpeace Mexico says about 30 of its activists have been briefly detained by Mexico City police after several of them rappelled down the side of a hotel to hang a banner protesting the resort project. ( 03/27/2012)

In the last six years, the Federal Government has secured the release of 216,742,609 baby sea turtles in the Pacific, the Gulf and the Caribbean. This is a significant increase in the nesting of the green, olive ridley turtles and Kemp’s ridley species – three of the six endangered species of sea turtles that nest on Mexico’s coasts. (El Sol de Mexico 03/26/2012)

Millions of Mexicans who inhabit the coasts of the country are facing a big concern. Rising sea water is contaminating aquifers, disabling wells near the coasts for human, animal and agricultural use. The National Water Commission warns, "There is a serious decline in fresh water supply to communities and productive activities," particularly in coastal regions in Nayarit, Tamaulipas, Colima, Sonora, Baja California and the Yucatan Peninsula. (El Universal 03/27/2012)

Mexico is starting to get serious about solar power.  With an initial investment of 720 million pesos (US$ 52.2 million) Grupo Musa and Synergy Technologies aims to develop a new 450 MW photovoltaic solar power plant in Tecate, Baja California. The first phase will have an installed capacity of 50 MW, and should be operational by 2013 to supply energy to the north of the country.  (REVE 03/30/2012)

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.