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Chile Environmental Board Approves coal plant near marine reserve

Published by MAC on 2010-09-05
Source: Santiago Times, Xinhua, Reuters

Chile's Regional Environmental Commission in Coquimbo has approved construction of a coal-fired thermoelectric plant next to Punta de Choros, the first marine reserve in the country.

The decision has resulted in a flood of protests.


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Regional Environmental Board Approves Thermoelectric Plant Near Chilean Marine Reserve

Project threatens Punta de Choros reserve, critics say, and was once opposed by Pinera.

By Ricardo Pommer 

Santiago Times

25 August 2010

The Regional Environmental Commission in Coquimbo (Region IV) voted 15-4 on Tuesday to approve construction of a controversial coal-fired thermoelectric plant next to Punta de Choros, an emblematic site in the Chilean coastline and the first marine reserve in the country.

The decision led to a flooding of social networking sites by protestors opposing the project.

The marine reserve is made up of three islands - Isla Choro, Isla Chañaral and Isla Damas - and their adjacent waters. The reserve is only 14 miles from the projected site of the thermoelectric plant.

Critics say a comprehensive plan for protecting Chilean wildlife is now seriously threatened by the power plant and are now calling for President Sebastián Piñera to make good on his election promises.

Piñera, during his election campaign, said he was against construction of this plant and a second plant near Coronel, when asked about the issue by Channel 7 correspondent Amaro Gómez-Pablos.

"Yes, I am against it," said Piñera. "And you know why? I went to see both of those beautiful places. I saw, for example, a thermoelectric plant 300 meters from a beach in Coronel. What we are doing is insane. We have, in the past 10 years, basically increased our dependency on carbon energy."

Gómez-Pablos pushed further and asked, "For the people who are over there listening, such as fishermen communities: If you were president, would you be against the construction of these two power plants?"

Piñera replied, "I will oppose all thermoelectric plants that seriously threaten nature, communities and their quality of life."

The reserve that is put at risk by the thermoelectric plant protects several threatened species of dolphins and the sea otters. The islands are also protected as Humboldt Penguin National Reserves, and are home to 80 percent of the world's Humboldt Penguin population.

The reserve, which makes up 40 percent of the total area of Chilean marine reserves, has been pioneering a new economically sustainable model by implementing low-impact ecotourism. This model is to be used as reference for designing future marine reserves in the country.

After COREMA approved the plant, 300 people gathered outside the regional government buildings to protest. Demonstrations are being organized in Santiago.

The discontent grew so rapidly that the site that is at the heart of the protests - - crashed at one point on Tuesday afternoon.

Many other organizations like and Greenpeace Chile say they hope the president will keep his word and ban the construction.

Controversial thermal power plant to be relocated: Chilean President


27 August 2010

SANTIAGO -Suez Energy, a multi-national company, would relocate one of its thermoelectric plants to reduce negative effects on environment, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said on Thursday.

The original location of the project, known as "Barrancones," caused controversies as it was only 25 kilometers away from the Punta de Choros Nature Sanctuary in northern Chile, a nature reserve rich in native flora and fauna.

"We have agreed with Suez Energy to move the power plant far from Punta de Choros in order to protect that wonderful nature reserve," Pinera said.

Pinera told National Goods Minister Catalina Parot to draw a plan to find a suitable location for the coal-driven 540-megawatt power plant.

The approval of this project last week by environmental authorities aroused strong complaint in the nearby Coquimbo city, which is some 400 km from Santiago.

"I want to tell the Chilean lovers of the nature that as a president I am really happy, and as a citizen even more happy for preserving the nature sanctuary, which I have visited and enjoyed with my own eyes," Pinera said.

According to some environment groups, 85 percent of the Humboldt penguins in the world live in this sanctuary.

Chile, Suez agree to relocate $1.1 bln plant


26 August 2010

SANTIAGO - Chile and France's GDF Suez have agreed to relocate a planned $1.1 billion thermal power plant, following a public outcry over fears the project would harm a reserve that is home to endangered penguins.

President Sebastian Pinera said a new location, which he did not disclose, was ideal to protect the pristine nature reserve in northern Chile.

"We have agreed with Suez to change the location of the Barrancones plant ... so we can protect this wonderful reserve, not only for our generation but for future generations," he said.

Suez said later in a statement that it would respect the decisions of Chilean authorities and "analyze whether better alternatives can be found to bring solutions to the growing energy needs of Chile."

The government's regional environmental commission in the Coquimbo region, Corema, had approved construction of the 540 megawatt Barrancones plant on Tuesday, triggering street protests in Santiago, the capital.

Surging energy demand in Chile is putting Pinera in a tough spot between economic needs and environmental protection. During his campaign, he vowed to oppose projects that threatened nature, communities or the quality of life.

While Pinera, who took office in March, is known as an environmentalist, analysts say he could choose to move ahead with key energy projects to satisfy the country's energy needs.

A new location for the plant would likely delay the project, however, Suez did not comment on potential delays.

The nature reserve is home to endangered Humboldt penguins and small otters called "chungungos," while whales and dolphins occupy the nearby marine habitat.

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