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Chile lifts suspension on Endesa 740 MW coal-powered project

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Mon, 3 Dec 2012 21:26 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Thermoelectric had been blocked on environmental grounds * Miners seen cheering decision; green groups blast OK * World No.1 copper producer Chile facing energy woes SANTIAGO, Dec 3 (Reuters) - A Chilean ministerial group lifted a suspension on energy firm Endesa's 740-megawatt Punta Alcalde coal-fired thermoelectric project, local media 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 had in June blocked Endesa's ${esc.dollar}1.4 billion complex, citing the project's potential polluting effect on air quality and marine life. Agriculture minister Luis Mayol said the ministerial committee in charge of reviewing the project had unanimously voted to give it the green light, radio Cooperativa reported. The energy ministry was not immediately available to comment to Reuters. 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. Marine conservation group Oceana, which confirmed the project's approval on Monday, has decried Punta Alcalde. Oceana says 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 are putting pressure on conservative businessman 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 ${esc.dollar}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.

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