Latin America Climate, Energy and Environment News: 3/4 - 3/10/2012


A setback for the Castilla thermoelectric project in the Atacama region marked a victory for environmentalists as the Antofagasta Court accepted the appeal filed by environmental protection and community agencies to halt the 2,100 MW coal plant. The court invalidated a resolution previously granted by the local health department that qualified the project merely as a “nuisance” rather than a “polluter”.  The company plans to appeal the decision before the Supreme Court (La Tercera 3/8/2012).

 Chile’s Minister of Energy, Rodrigo Alvarez revealed the new national energy strategy this week in Santiago. Among the main proposals of the strategy were the promotion of Non-Conventional Renewable Energies (NCRE), the construction of a transmission pathway to bring energy from the southern regions, a well as the promotion of hydroelectric projects like the  HydroAysėn dam in Patagonia (Ministerio de Energía 3/28/2012). Critics of the plan outline the lack of mandatory standards for industrial mining companies and the continued reliance of fossil fuels within the energy grid (La Tercera 3/8/2012).

Despite the new national energy plan’s pointed support for Non-Conventional Renewable Energies (NCRE), a recent ranking prepared by Ernst & Young put Chile near the bottom on a list of the most attractive countries for NCRE. Chile garnered most of its points on infrastructure in regards to connecting its energy supplies to remote areas but lost points in the category of solar energy. Veronique Bekaert, the senior manager of the Sustainability and Climate Change Consulting firm blamed Chile’s poor solar ranking on the industry’s nascent state in Chile. “Our country has only developed solar energy capabilities in recent years but investors are increasingly more interested in this technology as costs have become more competitive,” (Diario Financiero 3/6/2012).

Costa Rica

Plans for an international airport on the Osa Peninsula raise concern from local businesses and environmentalists. The Osa Peninsula, known for its ecotourism and and well-persevered natural beauty has been slowly and sustainably developed by local businesses. The new airport would likely open the area up to more tourism and development by facilitating access to the currently remote region. Opponents fear the Osa Peninsula will be the next Guanacaste, a highly developed region to the North. Opponents are also wary of the project’s close proximity the Sierpe-Térraba wetlands. These are the largest wetlands on the Pacific Coast and are under protection of the RAMSAR convention. Despite these concerns, the government is now beginning to accept bids to conduct an environmental impact assessment.  (El Financiero 3/9/2012).

Plans for harnessing geothermal energy sources in Costa Rica’s National Parks have resurfaced in the Environmental Commission of the Legislative Assembly under two new bills ( No. 17,707 and 17,680). Exploiting energy resources in Costa Rica’s national parks is not a new idea as many estimates from the Institute of Costa Rican Electricity   (ICE) say that 56% of the country’s hydropower potential lies in protected areas. Regardless, most plans have been rejected because they violate international conventions signed by Costa Rica. Opponents of the bills also maintain that exploiting the country’s parks for energy is a direct threat to the tourism industry, which gains a majority of its revenue from tourists visiting protected territories and national parks(La Nación 3/7/2012).

The aftermath of the Crucitas Mine in San Carlos Cutris continues to unfold as the Association for the Preservation of Flora and Fauna (Apreflofas) continues their investigation of damage done by Industrias Infnito. The firm is charged with clear cutting between 60 and 80 acres of forest within their mining concession area. The forest lost included a rare yellow almond tree important to the habitat of the green parrot. Apreflofas applied for full access to Industrias Infinito in order to collect evidence on the damage done and make appropriate recommendations for the necessary reparations of the affected area (La Nacion 3/7/2012).


In the latest effort to halt construction on the Cabo Cortés mega resort in Cabo Pulmo, The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) brought together thousands of school children from 70 different countries to deliver 13,000 petition signatures to President Felipe Calderón. The resort has been a hotly contested project due to the close proximity to the Cabo Pulmo national marine reserve in Mexico’s Gulf of California. Opponents fear the creation of a “second Cancun”, threatening the wild life of Cabo Pulmo. But proponents continue to argue the sustainability of the project and have offered $78,500 dollars per year for the protection of the reserve. (Washington Post 3/6/2012).  The Gulf of California is a haven for breeding whales and a recent spike in whale births highlights the importance of marine reserves in the region. Between 2007 and 2012, 3,553 baby whales were born in Mexican waters. (Biosfera 3/7/2012).

Mexico currently ranks 13th worldwide in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, with 61 percent of its emissions coming from the energy sector. As such, the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMERNAT) is taking new steps to promote sustainable energy in Mexico to help meet the goal of generating 35% of Mexico’s energy needs with renewable sources. Mexico has abundant wind resources and SEMARNAT is now developing standards to help grow  Mexico’s wind sector  and  protect biodiversity (Biosfera 3/28/2012). SEMERNAT is also seeking to improve standards on cars, lighting and solid waste. In a speech to the National Academy of Engineering, Juan Rafael Elvira Quesada, the Secretary of SEMERNAT, said that Mexico will look to create smaller more efficient cars by 2016. He also highlighted that NOM would work to promote new regulations of waste management to drive a market for efficient recycling and municipal waste management (Biosfera 3/23/2012).

SEMERNAT and the federal government of Baja California signed an agreement via the Baja California Coordination Framework Convention for more than $22 million dollars toward the sustainable use of natural resources in Baja California. A majority of the investment will go toward the water sector and various infrastructure projects related to drinking water, waste water, and agricultural drainage systems while the remaining funds will be applied toward conservation initiatives. The meeting also marked a new investment into air quality research via a federal investment of $490,000 dollars to create a new air quality laboratory in the Baja region (Biosfera 3/2/2012).

 Composed by Amanda Wheat

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.