In the late 1990s, when Chile was dependent on hydropower, a massive drought struck the nation, triggering widespread blackouts and energy rationing. The incident persuaded the government to build more natural gas plants to keep the same thing from happening again. Just a few years later, however, another crisis ensued when Argentina, Chile’s main supplier of natural gas, cut off exports. Needing fuel fast, Chilean energy interests proposed a twofold solution: Burn imported coal instead of natural gas, and build a series of massive hydroelectric dams in rugged Patagonia.
In 2007, Chile’s two largest energy companies joined together to propose a massive, five-dam hydroelectric project on two of the country’s wildest rivers. The dam project sparked immediate protests and launched a growing movement to protect Patagonia from industrialization. NRDC joined forces with local activists, and our clean energy experts began working to help change Chile’s energy paradigm. With its abundant renewable energy potential—the world’s best spot for solar energy generation is Chile’s northern Atacama Desert—the country did not have to import dirty fossil fuel or destroy its prized wild rivers for energy.
Working with Chilean partners and international experts, NRDC highlighted Chile’s unconventional renewable energy potential (which excludes large, environmentally damaging hydroelectric dams). Our technical analyses provided the government and the energy industry with hard data on the cost and availability of wind, solar, and geothermal energy resources in Chile, as well as the potential for economic benefits and job growth from clean energy development. Our research and advocacy helped refute the claims of the energy establishment and soon convinced the Chilean government that their country had more and better options to explore.
In 2010, Chile passed the first renewable energy portfolio standard in Latin America, kicking off the rapid development of clean, renewable energy—solar power in particular. In 2013, guided by NRDC and local experts, the government strengthened that standard to raise the goal to 20 percent renewable energy by 2025. Renewable energy in Chile has already increased 400 percent since 2012, and more projects are under construction. All indications suggest that the country will meet—and even exceed—its renewable energy goals.
While continuing to promote clean energy development, NRDC is also helping Chile develop effective energy-efficiency policies and measures that have the potential to save enough electricity to power every Chilean household for four years. Our technical experts are collaborating with Chile’s energy ministry as it drafts a national energy-efficiency law.
Throughout Latin America, many countries are locked into dirty fossil fuel and hydroelectric energy systems that damage the environment and fail to meet the needs of their people. As Chile breaks free of the old energy paradigm, it can influence its neighbors to take similar steps toward a cleaner, more efficient, and resilient energy system.