Latin America Climate, Energy and Environment News: 9/19 - 9/23/2011


Minister of Energy Rodrigo Alvarez visited the southern Patagonia region of Aysén this week, where he signaled that the government would support clean energy pilot projects, including renewable energy and energy efficiency.  Speaking to regional authorities, students and the general public, Alvarez highlighted the responsibility of the state as well as private companies to foment growth in the sector, and said that the expansion of the transmission system and technological innovation are the two challenges to clean energy growth. (El Divisadero 9/23/2011)

The Ministry of Energy is looking at two different models for the “public electric transmission highway”, an initiative that President Piñera announced during his national address in May, but which has seen little progress since.  One model involves physically building a 100 meter-wide transmission line corridor between the cities of Taltal and Puerto Montt, which would allow projects to connect to the main grid.  The second model is more of a legal concept that does not include building a new physical line or grid, but rather would incorporate the idea into future plans to expand the country’s transmission system. (La Tercera 9/18/2011)

The Appeals Court in Puerto Montt shut down two of COPEC’s seven holding tanks in its new Pureo plant in Calbuco in response to a petition filed by locals after the tanks spilled 26,200 liters (6,921 gallons) of oil last week.  The spill forced fishing and mollusk farm operations – the backbone of the local economy – to close temporarily until the Electricity and Fuel Superintendent finishes its investigation of the incident.  (Santiago Times 9/20/2011) 

United under the slogan “plantations are not forests,” environmental, social and community groups in the Maule, Biobío and Araucanía regions are calling for a halt in the expansion of pine and eucalyptus farms.  They say that these plantations lead to the depopulation of rural areas, exhaust water resources, introduce pesticides to natural ecosystems, worsen the quality of the regions’ soil, and violate the rights of indigenous groups living nearby.  Native forests, the groups argue, provide a better model for wood cultivation.  Pine and eucalyptus are grown for the cellulose and lumber industries, and comprise more than 90 percent of the country’s entire monoculture farming.  (Radio Universidad de Chile 9/21/2011)

The under-Secretary of Fishing announced during a visit to Concepción that the government would oppose energy projects that could damage local economic activities or the environment.  His remarks are relevant as two new coal-fired power plants have been proposed along the region’s coast near Coronel Bay.  Local artisanal fishermen are protesting the two plants, one proposed by the international energy company Endesa and the other by the Chilean Colbún.  (BioBío Chile via  9/23/2011)

The approximately 30 teams competing in the 2011 Atacama Solar Challenge will present their vehicles before the Presidential Palace on September 25, before the race starts on September 30.  The contestants are students of different universities and schools from seven countries, who will cross 1060 kilometers of Chile’s northern Atacama and Calama deserts – areas with the planet’s highest solar radiation – using their solar-powered vehicles.  (Electricidad Interamericana 9/23/2011)

Costa Rica

As concerns about future electricity shortages in Costa Rica have diminished, an emergency electric contingency bill proposed in May is no longer considered as urgent by the National Assembly.   The bill would have increased electric generation by about 400 MW by increasing the participation of private generation, rural coops and municipal companies.  The legislative committee considering the proposal still has three weeks to make a decision on the bill; however, opposition is strong since some consider the bill would entail to much change in the electric sector’s model. (La Nación 9/20/2011)

Both Costa Rica’s Constitutional Court and the Environmental Secretary (SETENA) rejected appeals submitted by Mallon Oil Company that demanded that the government sign a contract for oil and natural gas exploration and exploitation. The company won a concession in 2000 for hydrocarbon exploration rights and after overcoming various legal hurdles called on the government to finalize a contract. However, the company is refusing to complete a comprehensive environmental impact study. (La Nación 9/22/2011)  According to Costa Rica’s Ministry of Energy, Rene Castro, before a company can move on to the exploration phase it must present a full environmental impact study.  (La Nación 9/23/2011)

Costa Rica’s Institute of Technical Norms now offers carbon neutral certification to companies and organizations that meet the newly approved norm INTE 12-01-06:2011.  Costa Rica has declared the goal of carbon neutrality by 2021, but thus far companies that wished to be certified as carbon neutral needed to do so through international certification entities. (El Financiero 9/21/2011)


Thousands of wooded acres populated with pine and oak, others with natural springs, streams and underground water that flows down from the mountains to the valleys of Chihuahua, Sonora and Sinaloa are being removed to build a large open pit mine that detonate thousands of tons of rocks, then grind, and chemical undergoes a leaching process to place the waste material into new mountains that transform the mountain landscape later. Foreign mining companies operating in Chihuahua monthly use hundreds of tons of dynamite and cyanide. Part of that cyanide is recovered in a closed circuit, but in the dams, where the process of leaching takes place, sludge and spills are produced.  (Akro Noticias 09/18/11)

Climate change and new urban population cause changes in the characteristics of volcanoes in the central region. The Senate asked Semarnat a report if the eventual extinction of the glaciers located in the Iztaccíhuatl, Popocatépetl and Citlaltépetl could affect the biodiversity in the valley of Mexico. The Senate said that the two glaciers are located in the National Park Iztaccíhuatl Popocatépetl which has the presence of 469 species, eight of them are endemic and 27 are in a risk category. ( 09/19/11)

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) demanded the government of President Felipe Calderon the cancellation of the licenses granted to the Spanish construction firm Hansa Urbana to build the tourism project in Cabo Cortés, Baja California Sur. At a press conference, Exequiel Ezcurra, WWF-Mexico director, warned that the coastal urban project represents a serious threat to the economic, social and environmental sustainability aspects of the Gulf of California. Also he, as the director of the Institute for Mexico and the United States at the University of California, argued that the project is not environmentally viable and represents a risk to the regional ecological sustainability. The approval of this plan ignored recommendations of the National Water Commission, the Natural Protected Areas, Environmental Organizations and society, said Ezcurra, who was president of the National Institute of Ecology in the past six years. WWF Spain also raised the alarm at the "macro-project" that the Spanish company intends to build in Cabo Pulmo, using "loopholes and serious irregularities," said the NGO. According to the general secretary of WWF Spain, Juan Carlos del Olmo, the project will draw one hundred percent of available water from the single aquifer not overexploited in this desert region; it will present social and economic risks to local people and destroy protected dunes, marine turtle nesting spaces and valuable coral reefs. (Proceso 09/19/11) (La Jornada en Línea 09/19/11) (ADN.ES 09/19/11)


Eleven of the last climate change-related extreme weather events in Central America resulted in losses of US$13,600 million for the region.  Central America will be one of the regions most affected by climate change and the president of the World Association of Water, Maureen Ballestero,  recently urged the region’s countries to begin to dedicate a portion of their national budgets to climate change adaptation. (El Pais 9/23/2011)

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.