Suez studying Chile thermal/hydro/wind projects

CALAMA, Chile Tue Mar 25, 2008 4:28pm EDT

CALAMA, Chile (Reuters) - French utility Suez said on Tuesday it was studying building a thermoelectric complex in central Chile, at least six hydroelectric plants in the south and two wind farms.

Manlio Alessi, president of Suez Energy Andino told reporters in the northern city of Calama that investment in the projects could total around $3 billion.

He said Suez had already bought a 1,000-hectare (2,500-acre) plot near the central city of La Serena for its "Barrancones" thermoelectric project, where it aims to build three units each with a capacity of 180 megawatts.

"The investment is similar to that in our other thermal power plant. Between $800 million and $1 billion," Alessi said during a presentation.

The environmental impact study was presented to authorities late last year, and the project is expected to come on line by 2012.

The firm is also studying building another thermoelectric plant in the central coastal region of Valparaiso, which would comprise two units with a capacity of 350 megawatts

Suez is already building a thermoelectric project in northern Chile.

Chile imports nearly all of the fuel it consumes and higher energy costs have dampened industrial and mining growth, key to Chile's economic growth.

Compounding matters, hydroelectric output is down because of low reservoir water levels amid the worst drought in decades.

President Michelle Bachelet last week signed an energy law that requires electric utilities to invest in and supply nonconventional energy sources, seeking to diversify energy sources to counter a serious shortage as it tries to feed its lynchpin copper industry.

(Reporting by Monica Vargas, Editing by Simon Gardner and Marguerita Choy)

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