The Government’s Double Standard On Coal-Fired Power Plants

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SANTIAGO – This week, the presidential office launched its “Decarbonization Plan,” which seeks to close all 28 thermoelectric plants before 2040. The eight oldest coal-fired plants in Chile should close in the next five years. The opening of a new plant last week seems to contract that plan.

In the last days of May, the French energy company Engie started operating a new coal-fired plant in the commune of Mejillones. Although the government announced that this plant is the last coal-fired plant to be opened in the country, it’s opening contradicts Piñera’s promise to make Chile carbon-neutral by 2050.

The Chilean industrial magazine Electricidad writes that the power plant is built according to high environmental standards, through “catalytic reduction systems and low emission burners for nitrogen oxide gases.” The company will also support the municipality of Mejillones by financing US $1.5 million in cultural and sports initiatives.

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Back to the government’s “Decarbonization Plan.” At the moment, around 40 percent of the electricity in Chile comes from coal, generated by 28 thermoelectric plants. According to NGO EndCoal, “coal is the single biggest contributor to anthropogenic climate change. The burning of coal is responsible for 46% of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide and accounts for 72% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the electricity sector.”

Countries are searching for alternatives in renewable energy, such as solar energy. Chile, already heavily affected by the climate crisis and the organizer of the UN Climate Change Conference COP25 in December, wants to be a carbon-neutral country by 2050, according to Piñera’s plans.

The eight oldest coal-fired power plants will be closed in the next years: one in Iquique, one in Coronel, two in Puchuncaví, and four in Tocopilla.

The million-dollar question is how a newly opened coal-fired power plant coincides with the ambition of decarbonizing Chile. With lakes and rivers drying up, glaciers melting, rain deficits in the central and northern regions of the country, Chile, its people, and its economy are already seeing a glimpse of what’s to come in the next years. And although in Chile political pressure from big capital enterprises is never far away, it is time for the government to choose where the real priorities lie.

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