Power generation in Chile is in private hands and the lack of a clear regulation framework leads to the coexistence of thermoelectric with other renewable projects that begin to proliferate. Citizen opposition to the thermal power plants is increasing. Lately, the growing opposition to such projects is expressed through marches, all kinds of protests, social networks, etc … Protests were recently staged against the Los Robles, Barrancones or Bocaina II power plants, and not only by environment associations but also local government bodies or neighborhood associations.
A study by Terram Foundation shows that for the period between January 2000 and June 2011, 153 out of 222 power generation projects that went through the System of Environmental Impact Assessment, presented conflicts, and from those, 93 were thermoelectric projects. Or equivalently, out of the 222 projects that have gone through the Environmental Assessment System, representing 26,148 MW, a total of 22,845 MW are in conflict. 16,256 MW (93 projects) of that total are thermoelectric.
The data also shows that 86% of the projects submitted to evaluation were presented between 2006 and 2011, which evidences that there was a massive entry into the system after 2006, following the gas supply crisis with Argentina. This creates a concentration of projects under evaluation, mostly thermoelectric.
The entrepreneurship argument in front of this project’s flood is that electricity demand will increase in the coming years due to mining activities, currently consuming about 37% of the electricity produced in the country. Therefore, to ensure that these projects can materialize would be the most urgent priority. However, the growing rejection of such projects evidences that there is a major problem: a public policy problem.
The central problem consists of the lack of regulation that allows companies to generate power with the technology that is better suited for their private interests. The government has no instrument to organise the generating companies, either by source type (hydro, thermal, renewable or otherwise), by location, potential, etc.. In the absence in the State of an institution empowered with regulatory instruments capable of managing the demand projection, this task is left in private companies’ hands, who only need to announce their projects and present them to environmental assessment, therefore explaining the number of projects currently under evaluation .
Along with this, many of the plants were never evaluated from the environmental point of view, since no environmental laws existed in the country before. In the case of the thermoelectric, this can be dramatic, and results in high inefficiency and pollution levels, which in turn explains the sensitivity of the people against such projects.
Moreover, the country has no regulations that establish a life span for generating and / or thermoelectric power plants in particular, allowing that plants such as Laguna Verde, aging more than 70 years, still operate due to the profitability they offer to their owners. Neither are there regulations for the technology to use, so that the application of latest technology cannot be called for. And what is worse, solid fuels are not regulated by Chilean law.
In short, there are no regulations or controls over the type of coal or pet coke to be used in coal plants. Another issue that is generating high levels of conflict, especially with coastal and small-scale fishermen communities, is the absence of regulations for emissions into water from thermal power plants. These plants draw water up from the coastline and release it back at a temperature 8 to 10 degrees warmer, therefore eliminating life in the area.