Conservative Chile presidential candidate calls for all-renewable grid

FILE PHOTO: Sebastian Pinera, former Chilean President and current presidential candidate, poses for a picture during an interview with Reuters in Santiago, Chile August 11, 2017. REUTERS/Pablo Sanhueza/File Photo

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chilean presidential candidate Sebastian Piñera, who is leading in the polls for this November’s elections, pledged on Thursday to move the South American country toward a fully renewable electricity grid by 2040.

Conservative Piñera, who previously served as Chile’s president from 2010 to 2014, said that if elected he would seek to build on heavy investments the country has made in wind and solar energy.

“The goal is that by 2040, Chile has a 100 percent clean and renewable electricity grid and a 100 percent electric public transit system,” Piñera said at a campaign rally.

Chile is an obvious target for green energy firms. It imports most of the oil and gas it uses, but its desert climate and long coastline makes solar and wind power a viable prospect, especially as prices for renewables have plunged.

A Piñera victory would be welcomed by the copper-producing country’s business community, which blames current center-left President Michelle Bachelet for stoking market uncertainty in one of Latin America’s most free-market economies.

But Piñera is unlikely to win in the first round, and a December runoff against center-left candidate Alejandro Guillier or hard-left Beatriz Sanchez would likely be tight.

Guillier and Sanchez have both also spoken in favor of boosting renewable energy, though neither has given a specific time-frame for moving toward an all-clean grid.

Reporting by Antonio de la Jara, writing by Luc Cohen, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien