Latin America Green News: Chilean copper mine goes solar, frogs and natural gas reappear in Costa Rica, and waves make electricity for Mexicans

Latin America Green News is a selection of weekly news highlights about environmental and energy issues in Latin America. 

November 26-30, 2012


The Supreme Court ruled this week that the environmental approval for the Pirquenes coal plant in the Biobío Region was illegal, and that the local authorities would have to conduct a new vote. The court upheld an earlier decision by an appeals court that the $80 million, 50 megawatt plant requires an environmental impact assessment for the approval. The company argues that no plant of that size has needed an environmental impact assessment before. But, those who oppose Pirquenes and representatives of the local government argue that Pirquenes is a special case. It plans to extract water from the local drinking supply, the land will be contaminated with pentachlorophenol, a toxic chemical, and the project’s environmental impact declaration was made before the 8.8 magnitude earthquake of 2010. (Radio Universidad de Chile 11/28/2012)

Mining industry executives celebrated the inauguration of the world’s largest thermo-solar energy plant connected to a mine, on Thursday. A $15 million investment, the new plant will use parabolic troughs to heat mining solutions used for copper production, and will replace 55 percent of the diesel fuel currently used for these processes, saving the company $2 million annually. By doing so, the new plant will also reduce the company’s carbon emissions by more than eight thousand tones, or four percent of the company’s total emissions. (Revista Electricidad 11/30/2012)

Chile’s Senate approved the highly controversial new fishing law after five intense days of debate. The Senate began discussing the law on November 20th, but needed several days to address the nearly 1000 suggested changes to the text. The bill now returns to the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, for its third round of discussion there. (La Nación 11/29/2012)

Costa Rica

Starting this coming January, Costa Rica will start importing diesel and gasoline with a lower sulfur content. Sulfur content in diesel will drop from 50 parts per million (ppm) to 15 ppm. Sulfur in gasoline will drop from 200 ppm to 80 ppm. The cleaner fuels will meet sulfur standards applicable in Europe, and make Costa Rica the leader in low-sulfur fuel in Central America.  Costa Rica’s new fuel standards will also limit the amount of MMT, an additive that can harm gasoline engines. (Inside Costa Rica 11/30/2012)

Costa Rica’s President Chinchilla and Minister of the Environment signed a decree declaring the import, use and distribution of liquefied natural gas (LNG) in the public interest.  The government claims importing natural gas would help meet the country’s transportation and electricity needs at a lower cost than petroleum, and with lower greenhouse gas emissions.  According to the government, Costa Rica is poised to begin imports in six months. Costa Rica’s College of Geology disagree with the government’s cost estimates, predicting that importing LNG would be just as expensive as importing oil.  As an alternative to importation, the College is calling for the lifting of the moratorium on natural gas exploration in the country. (La Nación 11/21/2012)

An extremely rare frog thought to be extinct in the 1980s has reappeared in Costa Rica, but now in a different ecosystem  and at a higher altitude. Formerly, the frog was found only in mountainous areas between 1,210 and 2,040 meters above sea level.  Its recent re-discovery in Costa Rica was at an altitude of 2,300 meters. The frog’s re-location may be possibly due to climate change according to herpetologist Alan Pounds. (El País 11/30/2012).


In a big win for Mexican civil society, Desarrollos Zapal has withdrawn its Environmental Impact Manifestation for their highly controversial mining project, Los Cardones, which they had submitted for review to the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat). The company wishes to wait and resubmit the manifestation once the new federal administration has taken control and is in position. (Peninsular Digital 11/30/2012).

Maremotrices de Energias Renovables (Marersa), a Mexican energy company, intends to start building four wave energy projects totaling 30 megawatts in February. The company, based in Mexico, City, will construct 450 buoys that capture the movement of waves to produce this energy, and will be selling it at costs 20% lower than the cost of energy from the Federal Commission on Energy. An anonymous investment bank is backing Marersa’s projects with $100 million in equity. (Bloomberg 11/23/2012).

The Secretary of Energy (Sener) is contributing to the current administration’s legacy as a proponent of renewable energy by publishing five detailed studies on the potential for wind power, solar power, geothermal, biomass and cogeneration. Each study highlights the benefits of these renewable sources as well as different techniques of maximizing each one, and offering regulations that will make for safer production and a greener future. The contents of the studies are available on the Sener website. (Reve 11/26/2012).

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