Decarbonizing Chile: Coal-Fired Power Plants to be Shut Down

SANTIAGO – Chile is implementing a plan to decarbonize its economy and confront global warming. A key component relates to shuttering coal-fired power plants. While the plan is largely supported, some politicians warn about the speed of its implementation. 

In agreement with local power generators, Chile is implementing a decarbonization plan to close its 28 coal-fired plants.

Electricity generated with coal represents around 40 percent of national generation and accounts for 25 percent of CO2 emissions.

In October, the Lower House approved a bill that, if it becomes law, prohibits the installation and operation of coal-fired plants from Dec. 31, 2025 already. But the government initially planned the closure of all plants for 2040.

Greenpeace Chile spokesperson Mauricio Ceballos told Chile Today “it seems to us absolutely positive that the [deadline] for closing thermoelectric plants has been [shortened],” as the 2040 goal was “absurd.”

And “without any type of obligation…basically it was a recommendation for companies. It’s important to us to bring deadlines forward and [implement] an obligation,” he added.

Also read:

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

Pros and Cons 

But the 2025 goal raised controversy too. Energy Minister Juan Carlos Cobet said in a statement that “if this project comes forward, more than 14,000 jobs will be lost; there would be a high risk of electricity rationing, electricity bill hikes, very high risks of lawsuits against the state, among others.”

Asked about the statement, Greenpeace’s Ceballos said, “obviously those who oppose these measures, announce the dangers it may have for the country’s electricity supplies. The fact of taking coal-fired plants out of circulation causes fear among economic powers.”

He added, “this situation is very similar to when we opposed the HidroAysen mega-dam in Patagonia, and nothing bad happened after all.

How Should the Decarbonization Process Unfold?

The government’s plan involves short- and long-term strategies. As part of the former, 10 units will be shut down within five years. Under the long-term strategy, officials will evaluate the schedule every five years and adjust shutdown dates according to needs and progress made with renewable sources.

Ceballos said, “for us a very important step has to do with the immediate closure of the older coal-fired plants, which mostly do not even count with an environmental evaluation process, which is why it is impossible to control the damage they generate.”

Regarding the plants to close by 2025 , he said, “we must emphasize it is a necessary process for the country and for the world. This can be a benefit for both local communities and for Chile’s ambition to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Chile ratified the Paris climate agreement in 2017. Its 174 signatories promise to limit carbon emissions to keep global warming below an average temperature rise of 2°C.

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