NotiEn - A Newsletter on Energy Policy Issues in Latin America
March 24, 2011Vol 2, Issue 6

Chile & Mexico struggle with commitment to renewable energy; while Ecuador court issues landmark ruling...

A NOTE FROM THE EDITOR

Two Latin American leaders who in the past have pledged to promote alternative energy in their countries are now coming under criticism for failing to live up to their commitments.

 

This issue of NotiEn examines how Chilean President Sebastián Piñera deviated from his promise to give Chile's electricity matrix a green makeover by approving a pair of costly and highly polluting coal projects; one, an open-pit mine in the far south; the other, a massive coal-burning power plant slated for the northern Atacama region.

 

In Mexico, President Felipe Calderón is continuing efforts to promote alternative energy, especially wind power. The Spanish engineering company Iberdrola has been the primary participant in constructing wind projects in Mexico.

 

But critics contend that the Calderón government's efforts have been insufficient and mostly cosmetic. As evidence, they note that, despite Calderón's commitments, renewable energy still accounts for less than 4% of Mexico's electric power. 

 

Even with the criticisms, the reality is that Chile and Mexico are among the four Latin American countries with the greatest wind-power capacity. A recent report from the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) said Mexico ranks second in the region in wind energy with an installed capacity of 517 megawatts. Chile is the third-largest producer with an installed capacity of 172 MW. At the top of the list is Brazil, with a capacity of 931 MW, and Costa Rica is fourth with 123 MW.

 

This issue of NotiEn also deals with the land-use question in Ecuador as it relates to the actions of multinational oil corporations in the South American country. In February of this year, an Ecuadoran court handed down a historic ruling ordering oil giant Chevron-Texaco to pay US$9.5 billion for environmental damages incurred during 28 years of oil exploitation during which the company used obsolete technology and deliberately released more than 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater into the northern Amazon region of Ecuador. The court's decision is significant because it goes beyond economic compensation; it also requires the US-based company to publically apologize to the people of the affected region for the crimes committed on their lands.

 

Carlos Navarro - Editor   

In This Issue...
A Note From the Editor
Chile Skirts Clean-Energy Focus, Approves Two Major Coal Projects
Mexico Announces New Wind-Energy Project in Oaxaca; Critics Say Government Not Doing Enough to Promote Renewables
Chevron Trying to Avoid Historic Ecuador Verdict
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Chile Skirts Clean-Energy Focus, Approves Two Major Coal Projects
By Benjamin Witte-Lebhar 
Promises by President Sebastián Piñera to give Chile's electricity matrix a green makeover went up in proverbial smoke last month when authorities approved a pair of costly coal projects: one, an open-pit mine in the far south; the other, a massive coal-burning power plant slated for the northern Atacama region.

Chile derives the bulk of its electricity using conventional thermoelectric (fossil-fuel) generators and large-scale hydroelectric dams. The latter contribute roughly 36% of the country's total installed capacity, currently about 15,700 megawatts.  A handful of modern wind parks contribute 0.9%, while the rest of Chile's electric power--nearly 10,000 MW--comes from thermoelectric facilities. Of those 10,000 MW, slightly more than half is derived from natural gas, the least polluting of the fossil fuels, while 37% (or 23% of Chile's total capacity) comes from coal, a cheaper but far dirtier alternative.  Diesel or fuel oil powers the remainder of the country's thermoelectric plants.

Environmental groups would like to see Chile embrace nonconventional renewable (NCR) technologies, such as solar and wind power, which have already made huge inroads in Europe, the US, China, and elsewhere.  Read more...

 

Mexico Announces New Wind-Energy Project in Oaxaca; Critics Say Government Not Doing Enough to Promote Renewables
By Carlos Navarro  

At the recent economic conference in Davos, Switzerland, in January 2011, President Felipe Calderón went out of his way to boast about a new agreement that the Mexican government had just reached with the Spanish engineering company  Iberdrola to construct a wind-energy plant in Oaxaca state with capacity to generate 20 megawatts of energy.  After all, Calderón has gone to great lengths to promote his administration's commitment to environmentally friendly and renewable energy.  This effort helped the Mexican president convince the UN to hold the latest round of negotiations on global climate change in Cancún in December 2010.

 

Yet, despite the public perception that Calderón is making a stronger effort to make Mexico a "green" country, critics suggest that the Mexican president and the Congress are not doing enough to promote renewable energy.  A strong effort is important, they say, because Mexico is far behind other countries in implementing the technologies that will make a major difference in reducing pollution and ensuring Mexico's energy security.  Read more...

Chevron Trying to Avoid Historic Ecuador Verdict
By Luis Angel Saavedra   

On Feb. 14, 2011, Judge Nicolás Zambrano of the Corte Provincial de Justicia in Sucumbíos, Ecuador, handed down a historic ruling ordering oil giant Chevron-Texaco to pay US$9.5 billion for environmental damages incurred during 28 years of oil exploitation during which the company used obsolete technology and deliberately released more than 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater into the northern Amazon region of Ecuador.

 

Sucumbíos province has a long history of plundering of its natural resources, beginning in the 1940s with the exploitation of rubber and lumber.  But it was oil, discovered in the early 1970s, that caused the greatest devastation in the region.  This happened with the blessing of the national governments at the time, which never promoted the region's development even though oil came to account for 56% of national income.

 

The colonization created by resource extraction gave birth to various mestizo settlements, among them Nueva Loja, known as Lago Agrio, a small city that serves as the provincial capital and that now commands the attention not only of environmental activists and lawyers but also of the management of the largest oil transnationals.  Read more...


LA-ENERGAIA
Energy Policy, Regulation and Dialogue in Latin America

 

NotiEn is an original newsletter with breaking news that analyzes and digests relevant and contemporary information in energy, alternative energy and energy policies in Latin America. A complimentary service provided by the University of New Mexico as part of LA-ENERGAIA Project funded by the US TICFIA Program