Latin America Climate, Energy and Environment News: 8/6- 8/10/2012


The planned $8 billion capital increase by Chilean energy holding company, Enersis, has created new uncertainty about the HidroAysén dam project.  Many Chileans are accusing Enersis and Endesa Spain of trying to seize the pension funds of Chileans to solve the economic problems in their parent countries. As shares in the project lose value, contributors have lost $300 million and 64 percent of citizens now oppose the project. Depending on the government’s decision regarding the proposed “electric highway,” it is speculated that the cost of the project will increase (Future Renovable 8/2/2012).

The explosion of unconventional gas in North America is attracting the attention of the Chilean government. In a conference organized by Chile’s Secretary of State and the U.S. State Department titled, "Regulations for the development of unconventional gas and environmental standards between the United States and Latin America," the countries discussed the need for collaboration in order to exchange information about new technologies and regulatory practices.  Chile’s Energy Minister  Jorge Busnter said that energy independence is a main priority for Chile and for this reason, the country will begin exploration for hydrocarbons in various domestic basins (Electricidad 8/1/2012).

Chilean engineering and construction firm Besalco is working on 11 hydroelectric projects that total 156 megawatts (MW). The projects are in different stages from basic engineering to construction with the first project, Los Hierros, due online in the second quarter next year. Los Hierros is a 19.9MW run-of-the-river project in southern region VII that will use water from the Melado irrigation channel and supply the central SIC grid.  A $16 million, 5.1MW second phase for Hierros is under review by the government's environmental evaluation service (Business News Americas 8/8/2012). 

The Chilean geothermal company, Geotérmica del Norte (GDN), resubmitted the transmission component of the planned 50MW Cerro Pabellón geothermal complex in northern region II to Chile's environmental evaluation service (SEA).  Earlier this year, SEA approved GDN's environmental impact assessment for the $180 million geothermal complex planned for the area of Pampa Apacheta, which is scheduled to begin operations in 2015. The $20 million, 18-month transmission project includes a 73 kilometer line and substation, which will connect to the northern SING grid (Business News Americas 8/6/2012).

On August 7, President Sebastián Piñera declared ten districts in the Coquimbo Region “disaster zones” due to serious droughts. Currently, 108 districts across Chile are marked as areas of agricultural emergency due to the drought situation. According to Philip Martin, Secretary General of the National Irrigation Commission, Chile has had a water deficit for the last three years. Martin says that this is a climate condition to which the country will have to adapt by modifying its practices and infrastructure. In order to improve conditions and prepare for the summer season, the country increased its budget from $29 billion pesos to $41 billion. While there will be enough water for human consumption, farmers who rely on heavy rainfall will suffer (Future Renovable 8/7/2012).  

Costa Rica

The Costa Rican Oil Refinery, RECOPE, is developing three projects to reduce the country’s oil dependence. The projects include developing biofuels, hydrogen for transportation, and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) mixtures.  While an experimental biofuel plant was constructed in 2009, the pilot facility has yet to be built. The company is testing different combinations of fuels to evaluate how different fuel blends affect performance, emissions, and efficiency. For the hydrogen project, the goal is to design and implement an experimental system for the production, compression and storage of hydrogen gas. The results will help introduce this fuel into the public transportation system, which currently accounts for over half of the country’s petroleum use (El Financiero 8/10/2012).

The Supreme Court has suspended a mega project in Guanacaste due to alleged environmental damage. Construction on the project, Los Catalinas, was stopped Thursday by an order from the court, which accepted an appeal for review and issued an injunction. The project aims to build a resort development with 2,500 villas on the border between Santa Cruz and Carrillo.  The appeal was filed by two local residents who presented documents proving that buildings already in operation were exploiting water wells without permission and potentially affecting coastal aquifers. They also claim that the tree cutting permits issued to the project were acquired illegally (El Financiero 8/3/2012). 

The international produce certification, LSQA, was awarded to the Costa Rican pineapple company, Ganaflor, indicating that its operation is carbon neutral, making it the first pineapple company in the country with this achievement. The certificate was also approved by the International Carbon Neutral Company. This award is especially relevant for an industry that was characterized as being high-polluting and is now in the process of improving its environmental practices. According to the CEO, the company changed its habits and work culture to reduce CO2 generation and also gained carbon offsets by investing in green projects abroad (El Financiero 8/7/2012).

While environmental advocates have applauded Costa Rica’s forest conservation initiatives, the country has struggled to protect its marine resources. In an effort to improve the country’s “blue agenda,” President Laura Chinchilla’s administration took a major step forward by announcing a series of measures aimed at strengthening Costa Rica’s marine protection. On July 17, Chinchilla signed executive decrees that created a cabinet-level National Marine Commission to coordinate marine conservation policy, a new Waters and Oceans Vice Ministry under the current Environment Ministry, and an Oceanic Navigation Bill that would establish an updated regulatory framework for patrolling and enforcing environmental laws at sea. While many view the Commission as a positive step, there is concern about when, exactly, the commission will start its work. The fate of this Commission and Costa Rica’s future marine conservation policies will depend on whether the president decides to put the group into action (Tico Times 8/10/2012).


In order to raise awareness about the importance of Baja California to conservation efforts and the significance of its forest areas, the Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources, Juan Rafael Elvira Quesada, launched the Environmental Education Center in San Pedro Martir National Park. He noted that the government has invested over $23 billion pesos in the region over the last two years to support biodiversity conservation. Among the programs that Quesada developed jointly with the government of Baja California was a $7 billion peso initiative to reintroduce the pronghorn antelope to the area, which disappeared from the territory over 100 years ago (Semarnat 8/9/2012).

Mexico's first solar-powered wastewater treatment plant in Nogales, Sonora, will provide a precedent for water utilities looking to reduce costs for wastewater treatment said María Elena Giner, General Manager of the Border Environment Cooperation Commission. Water utilities are the biggest electricity consumers in a municipality and electricity is also the second biggest drain on a utility's resources. For this reason, a tender for construction of the 902KW photovoltaic plant is currently underway and is expected to be awarded in August or September this year. Construction of the solar plant is programmed to wrap in May 2013, providing an output that will cover 100 percent of the electricity required for the Los Alisos wastewater treatment plant. According to Giner, this is not only an important renewable energy project, but it is important for the development of a national public policy for the use of renewable energy within water utilities (Business News Americas 8/3/2012).

The Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources, Juan Rafael Elvira Quesada, and U.S. EPA Administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, signed the 2020 Border Program  to continue environmental cooperation between Mexico and the United States for the benefit of the inhabitants near the border of both countries. In her speech, Jackson acknowledged the improved environmental conditions created by the 2012 Border Program, which led 140 improvement projects, and expressed enthusiasm for the new program as well as further collaboration (Semarnat 8/8/2012).


The French multinational electric company, GDF Suez, announced that it is targeting the 70GW of potential new capacity needed in Latin America by 2020. The company boasts 11.8GW generation capacity in the region with another 5.17GW under construction (4.14GW in Brazil, 942MW in Peru, 59MW in Panama and 34MW in Chile) and another 9.2GW in early development. Currently, hydropower accounts for 62 percent of the 11.8GW, coal 18 percent, natural gas 12 percent, wind 1 percent and other renewables 8 percent (Business News Americas 8/3/2012).

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.