Latin America Climate, Energy and Environment News: 7/16- 7/20/2012


Given the dramatic decrease in costs and increasing efficiency of solar modules, it is becoming increasingly viable to finance and build competitive solar projects in Chile. This is one reason why First Solar, one of the largest developers of solar power plants in North America, is beginning its Latin American expansion in Chile. The company hopes to build at least two plants, each ranging between 50 and 100 megawatts in 2013. The Director of Development for Latin America, Kim Osterm, says that Chile is a priority because it has abundant sunshine and a strong need for energy. She adds that the greatest potential to build solar plants is in the mining areas, which are located in the first, second, and third regions, due to the fact that the industry is growing and that it relies on energy for its operations (Diario Financiero 7/20/2012).

The energy company, Fotones Renewable Energy of Chile, has submitted an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to the country's environmental evaluation service for a 90MW solar project, Diego de Almagro, planned for northern region III. The US$187 million plant would be comprised of 1,224,000 photovoltaic modules and output would be injected into the central grid. In January, Fotones filed EIAs for solar projects Crucero Solar and Encuentro Solar, each of which would boast 180MW and require US$400 million (Business News Americas 7/17/2012).

The Energy Director of Atacama Coquimbo, Luis Eduardo Cantellano, chaired a meeting between the director of the Spanish company, Ennera Augustine Iturrioz that is interested in developing solar energy projects and representatives of the mining company, Corminco. The purpose of the meeting was to explore the possibility of establishing solar projects to support mining as part of a larger effort to incorporate non-conventional renewable energies (NCRE) into the Region of Coquimbo, which is intimately linked to the National Energy Strategy. Cantellano said he wants to continue to promote the natural resources in the area as a source for clean and sustainable energy (Sustentare 7/20/2012).

Thanks to the state subsidy that supports non-conventional renewable energy (NCRE) 3,751 homes in Santiago save up to 80 percent on their gas bills and 10 percent on regular expenses by using solar energy.  4,600 homes nationwide are already saving energy with solar panels. The subsidy that took effect on August 24, 2010 funds the cost of solar thermal systems to heat water in new houses. However, a new bill has already been sent to Congress that would expand the tax benefits to those who use solar panels on their homes, even in existing homes. While Chile is already favorable for solar development, this subsidy has the potential to motivate customers through increased savings (La Nacion 7/19/2012).

Due to recent droughts, conflicts related to water security and water rights have been increasingly heightened in Chile as the tension rises between large businesses, farmers, and citizens. The secretary of the Water Defense, Land Protection and Environmental Respect Movement, Rodrigo Mundaca, spoke about the “Water War” in an interview with Julia Aisina. Mundaca says that the water codes favor large business and powerful individuals and that they have granted more rights to water than the amount of water that is actually available. Chile is the only country that has privatized its water and according to Mundaca, this is why it is treated as a capital good instead of an essential human right. She says that the problem is structural and a result of the fact that Chile made a decision to create a develop model based on the alienation and commodification of natural resources (El Magallanews 7/16/2012).  

The forest management improvement act that began in 2008, which rewards small and medium landowners who manage their forests sustainably, has grown to include 1,236 homeowners. Owners present projects that benefit forest regeneration and if they are approved, landowners must submit a management plan that outlines the costs incurred and the Incentive Fund reimburses them for that amount. Over $3.7 million has been given out in support of these projects (La Tercera 7/18/2012).

Costa Rica

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) announced that it approved $250 million in financing for Costa Rica's electricity sector. Nearly $98 million will go to the Reventazón Hydroelectric Project, and the remainder will go toward investments to improve the state power company’s electricity generation, transmission, and distribution capacities. IDB aims to improve the quality of energy and improve coverage in rural areas. It announced earlier this year joint investments with the Japan International Cooperation Agency that will provide $600 million to support renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in Central America and the Caribbean. In May, Costa Rica said it plans to invest $9 billion over the next 12 years in the nation’s power sector, with the majority to go toward generation in hydro, thermal, and geothermal energy (Renewable Energy World 7/12/2012). 

Despite being home to some of the most destitute communities in Costa Rica, a successful environmental education program runs smoothly in the Brunca region where community leaders are firm believers in development that is harmonious with environmental conservation. The Environmental Community Education Program of the La Amistad International Park and Buffer Zone (Educa-PILA in Spanish) works with 32 grade schools and five high schools (about 1,250 children and 200 adolescents) to teach conservation. The program focuses on providing useful tools so that students can develop their own projects. They promote activities such as solid waste management, organic crops, rural tourism and hospitality management, micro coffee co-ops, and best practices in poultry farming and beekeeping (Costa Rica Star 7/17/2012).

The government of Costa Rica signed an agreement with Panthera, an organization dedicated to protecting the wildcat species, to protect the jaguar in Latin America. The Ministry of Environment, Energy and Telecommunications of Costa Rica reported that the agreement with Panthera commits the parties to pursue scientific and conservation initiatives that help to preserve the largest endangered cat in the Americas. The Environment Minister of Costa Rica, René Castro, and CEO of Panthera, Alan Rabinowitz signed the agreement. Costa Rica is one of 18 countries in Latin America that is home to the jaguar and one of 13 countries in which Panthera is undertaking initiatives for their conservation efforts (Inside Costa Rica 7/13/2012).

Low rainfall this season is affecting the production of hydroelectric power, forcing the Costa Rican Institute of Electricity to increase spending in diesel and bunker fuels to meet demand. The state power company has had to spend more than ¢40 billion colones (around US$80 million) this year for the purchase of fuels, which is twice the amount that was set aside for fuel purchases for the year. One area of major concern is the low water level at the Arenal reservoir, which is the main backup for energy in the summer or dry season. Its current level is 18 inches below the minimum and if the situation does not reverse in the coming months, the outlook for the summer months would be much more complex than expected (Inside Costa Rica 7/20/2012).


This week Mexico and Ecuador signed a cooperation agreement to enhance collaboration in energy efficiency and renewable technologies.  Ecuador's power and renewable energy minister, Esteban Albornoz, and the new head of Mexican state power company (CFE), Jaime González, signed the agreement on behalf of their respective electricity research institutes, the IEE and INER. The agreement is designed to enhance the countries' relationship in regards to research and training, technology transfer, staff development, and lending of services (Business News Americas 7/13/2012).

During the Petersburg Dialogue III on Climate Change, which took place in Berlin, Germany, the Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources, Juan Rafael Elvira Quesada, urged his counterparts to allocate public resources toward infrastructure projects that will boost green growth and help mitigate climate change. German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, highlighted the work of Mexico as a pioneer in the adoption and implementation of national legislation on climate change and called on the other countries in attendance to work in an urgent and tangible manner to combat this phenomenon (Semarnat 7/17/2012).

Mexico will add 13GW of power capacity to the grid by 2020, of which 4GW, or 31%, will be renewable energy, says a report by the Fraser Institute. Of the 4GW of renewable energy capacity Mexico will add by 2020, nearly 2GW will be wind and 1.8GW hydroelectric. The remainder will come from geothermal and solar sources. The study also shows that Mexico's total power generation will grow 39% through 2020, much faster than that of the U.S. or Canada (Business News Americas 7/19/2012).

The Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources, Juan Rafael Elvira Quesada, swore in the new members that make up the new Board of Directors of the National Association of State Environmental Authorities (ANAAE). Quesada recognized all the work done by ANAAE and the importance of combining efforts between the three levels of government to strengthen environmental management for communities and the conservation of the country’s natural wealth. Lastly, he highlighted the strengthening of water infrastructure and waste management that was brought about through coordinated efforts of environmental authorities (Semarnat 7/19/2012).


Researchers at the Brazilian Center for Coastal Studies at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul in southern Brazil believe that the 745 penguins found washed up along the state's coastline since June 15 have died of natural causes. After analyzing the conditions in which the animals were found, they concluded that most of the birds were young and showed no signs of external injury or oil in their plumes and therefore, inexperience was to blame. Biologist Mauricio Tavares says that while it is common for some birds to wash up during migration season, over 500 is a very, very high number. A more detailed analysis is being carried out and a report should be completed within a month (CNN 7/17/2012).

This week’s news was compiled by Emily Jovais.

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.