UPDATE 2-Chile approves Endesa 740 MW coal-powered project

Mon Dec 3, 2012 5:34pm EST

* Thermoelectric had been blocked on environmental grounds
    * Green groups say mining lobby behind approval
    * World No.1 copper producer Chile facing energy woes


    SANTIAGO, Dec 3 (Reuters) - A Chilean ministerial group has
lifted a suspension on energy firm Endesa's 740-megawatt Punta
Alcalde coal-fired thermoelectric project, the company said on
Monday, in a boon for miners in the mineral-rich north of the
world's No.1 copper-producing nation. 
    An environmental commission in June blocked Endesa's
 $1.4 billion complex, citing the project's potential to
cause water and air pollution. 
    Government sources were not available to comment on Endesa's
statement or explain why the suspension had been lifted.
    Environmental groups are increasingly opposing power
projects ranging from coal-fired thermoelectric plants in
Chile's northern Atacama, the world's driest desert, to
hydropower dams in the pristine Patagonia region.
 
    "With the aim of canceling emissions of material particles,
Endesa Chile will be the first electrical company in Latin
America to use domes to cover the two fields that will be used
for the stockpiling of coal in Punta Alcalde," Endesa said in a
statement. 
    Once in operation, the project will have the capacity to
supply around 12 percent of energy demanded in Chile's central
energy grid. 
    Chile's power grid has a capacity of 17,000 megawatts. The
government aims to add another 8,000 megawatts by 2020. 
    The ministerial committee, made up of six ministries, meets
to review appeals against environment-related decisions. Chile's
energy, environmental and economy ministries were not available
for comment. 
    Marine conservation group Oceana has decried Punta Alcalde,
saying the project will saturate the coastal area of Huasco,
already home to thermoelectric plant Guacolda and a factory
belonging to steelmaker CAP.
    "This is a completely arbitrary decision, tainted by
pressure from the mining sector," said Oceana's executive
director Alex Munoz. "We're waiting for further details to
figure out how to follow up in court or via other paths."
 
    The two 370-megawatt units are planned in Chile's Atacama
region, close to Antofagasta Minerals' Los Pelambres
mine, Barrick Gold's Pascua Lama and Lumina Copper's
 Caserones mine, among others. Several energy and mining
projects in the Atacama region are reeling from legal setbacks.
    Chile's energy and mining sector is putting pressure on
conservative businessman and president Sebastian Pinera's
administration to clarify regulatory rules surrounding mega
projects.
    During the annual mining council dinner late last month,
Pinera said "we need ... to face the topic of increasing
lawsuits against approvals given to projects that this country
needs ... We need to urgently advance in materializing energy
investment."
    The Andean country is banking on attracting $100 billion in
mining investment and boosting annual copper output by more than
30 percent to over 7 million tonnes by 2020, but many analysts
and even miners themselves have called into question the
investment aim. 
    Shares in Endesa rose 0.90 percent on Monday, outpacing a
0.45 percent increase on Santiago's blue-chip IPSA stock
index.
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