Chile’s Punta Alcalde coal plant postponed

Communities fight for permanent cancelation

by Aviva Imhof

punta-alcalde1-620x330Last year, communities fighting Endesa’s proposed Punta Alcalde coal plant in northern Chile’s province of Huasco celebrated a victory when an appeals court blocked the construction of the plant due to the heavy pollution it would impose on an already over-polluted region. The appeals court halted the project because the regional environmental commission, the government agency charged with reviewing environmentally sensitive projects, had rejected the project’s environmental impact assessment.

Unfortunately, this decision was overruled in January this year by Chile’s Supreme Court, which in an unusual move said the plant could be built so long as a neighboring iron pellet plant installed an electrostatic precipitator to reduce emissions in the area. The agreement to install the electrostatic precipitator in the iron plant was made between Endesa and the plant owner, CMP, after Punta Alcalde’s EIA had been submitted to the regional environmental commission.

Communities have continued to fight the coal plant, and last month were rewarded when an executive from Endesa’s parent company, Enel, announced that the plant would be suspended due to a lack of demand for the electricity. This lack of demand results from the community’s successful defeat of two controversial mining projects in the area: Pascua Lama and El Morro. As a result, there is no need for the electricity from Punta Alcalde.

While this is good news for communities fighting the project, the war is far from over. Just last week, the Council of Ministers endorsed the Supreme Court’s decision to allow the Punta Alcalde plant to move forward as long as the neighbouring iron plant installs an electrostatic precipitator. An environmental impact assessment will still need to be submitted and approved for the electrostatic precipitator, and of course Endesa will need to see a renewed demand for electricity in order to move forward.

timthumbIn the meantime, the communities of Huasco continue to fight for permanent cancelation of the coal plant and other polluting industries planned for their area. In a communiqué issued following the Council of Ministers decision, the Movimiento Socio-Ambiental del Valle del Huasco (the socio-environmental movement of the Huasco valley) declared that the project would “deepen the human and environmental sacrifice zone of our valley, condemning it to its final destruction.” They emphatically stated that they “would not allow the construction of this criminal project in our territory.”

Huasco is one of five heavily contaminated areas in Chile known as “sacrifice zones”, where several polluting industries are clustered together. Communities in sacrifice zones face serious health problems from high levels of pollution, and experience their environment and fisheries being contaminated on a regular basis. Communities and local governments from the five sacrifice zones are now banding together to fight for their rights and their health, and to get stronger regulations in place to ban additional polluting industries from being approved in their areas.