Companies Accelerate Shutdown of Chilean Coal Plants

Italy’s Enel is decommissioning one of its coal-fired power plants in Chile two years sooner than originally planned, with the unit’s closure coming two days after the Chile-based unit of a U.S. utility announced it would accelerate the closure of a pair of coal-fired power plants in the country.

Enel on Dec. 31 is closing its 128-MW Bocamina 1 coal-fired power station. The company also is awaiting authorization from Chile’s National Energy Commission (CNE) to close its 350-MW Bocamina 2 plant in May 2022.

AES Gener on Dec. 29 said it would close both the 120-MW Ventanas 1 and 220-MW Ventanas 2 coal-fired generating facilities ahead of schedule, with Ventanas 1 going offline immediately, and Ventanas shutting down in 2022, instead of 2024 as originally scheduled. The Chilean government over the past year has been working with several generators in the country, including AES Gener, Enel, ENGIE, and Colbun, to gradually phase out coal-fired power generation in the South American nation. Coal today supplies about 40% of Chile’s electricity.

The closures in Chile come just weeks after South African officials announced a major coal-fired power plant construction project in that country was halted after a court challenge based on environmental concerns.

Replaced by Renewable Energy

Chilean President Sebastián Piñera at a Dec. 29 ceremony to announce the closure of Ventanas 1 said the unit’s generation would be replaced “with clean and renewable energies.” Chilean officials have said they want the country to become carbon-neutral by 2050.

Several solar power projects already are underway in Chile, including the Sonnedix Pelequén project in Pelequén. Development of that 150-MW installation began this year, and construction is expected to begin within 18 months. Sonnedix, a global independent solar power producer, on Dec. 22 announced it had purchased the project from developer RTB Energy.

The most-recent coal plant closures stem from a 2019 voluntary decarbonization agreement between Chile’s largest generators and the Piñera government. “Since [the agreement] was announced in June 2019, we have accelerated the retirement of six coal-fired plants compared to their original date,” energy minister Juan Carlos Jobet said in a statement. Jobet earlier this month also assumed the role of Chile’s mining minister .

Four Units at Ventanas

The Ventanas plant until Tuesday had four operating units, with total generation capacity of 875 MW. Unit 1 came online in 1964, with Unit 2 added in 1977. Units 3 and 4 entered commercial operation in 2010 and 2013, respectively. The facility prior to the closure of Unit 1 was the largest power plant in terms of generation capacity in the country.

The Ventanas complex is located in Quintero, in the coastal Valparaiso region of Chile. Officials have acknowledged problems with pollution in the port city, an industrial area that includes power plants, an oil refinery and a copper smelter, in proximity to residential areas.

AES Gener CEO Ricardo Falú said both Unit 1 and Unit 2—after its closure in 2022—could come back online to generate electricity in the event of an emergency. The Chilean government now says it expects to take at least 11 coal-fired units offline by 2024, after earlier saying it expected to retire eight units over the next four years.

South Africa Project Shelved

The Chilean announcement comes just weeks after South African officials said a large coal-fired power plant construction project in that country has been shelved. Plans to build the 1,200-MW Thabametsi station, which was sited outside Lephalale, Limpopo, about 225 miles north of Johannesburg, were dissolved after environmental groups won a Pretoria High Court challenge over authorization of the plant’s construction.

The project already had lost its major funders, including Japan’s Marubeni, France’s ENGIE, South Korea’s KEPCO, and the Development Bank of South Africa, among others, after pressure from environmental groups. Construction costs for the plant had been estimated at more than $825 million.

Construction of other new coal-fired plants in South Africa remains on the board. South Africa’s energy minister in a September-released integrated resource plan said the country still expects to build at least 1,500 MW of new coal-fired generation capacity, in addition to a new 3,300-MW coal-fired plant to accompany the Musina Makhado Special Economic Zone, a proposed metallurgical industrial complex in Limpopo.

Darrell Proctor is associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).

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