Unifying Transmission from North to South Means Cheaper Energy in Chile

The interconnection of Chile’s two major power grids will unite the country in terms of energy and bring down costs in one of the countries in the world with the most expensive electricity. Credit: Ministry of Energy

The interconnection of Chile’s two major power grids will unite the country in terms of energy and bring down costs in one of the countries in the world with the most expensive electricity. Credit: Ministry of Energy

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, May 7 2015 (IPS)

Chile expects to have a more efficient and stable electricity market, with a more steady – and above all, less expensive – supply, when the country’s two major power grids are interconnected over a distance of more than 3,000 km.

“It’s not sufficient simply to increase our electricity generating capacity, if we don’t strengthen our transmission capacity at the same time. If we want to be a developed country, we have to aim for diversity in our energy mix and stability in power transmission,” Energy Minister Máximo Pacheco told IPS.

This project “opens up enormous opportunities for progress and stability for Chileans, with cleaner and cheaper energy,” he added.

Chile’s long, thin territory has an installed capacity of approximately 17,000 MW to supply its 17.6 million people and its productive sectors.

In this country power generation and distribution are in the hands of private and mainly foreign corporations, and regulated by the government’s National Energy Commission, which is also coordinating the interconnection.

Of the country’s total installed capacity, the central grid, SIC, accounts for 74 percent and the northern grid, SING, accounts for 25 percent, while the smaller grids in the southern regions of Aysén and Magallanes produce less than one percent.

SING stretches from the region of Arica in the extreme north, bordering Peru and Bolivia, to Antofagasta, while SIC runs from the northern city of Taltal to the Big Island of Chiloé, in the south.

Together they total more than 3,000 km in this South American country, which is 4,270 km long.

The interconnection project, already under construction with a total projected investment of one billion dollars, is being carried out by the French company GDF Suez and involves installing an additional 580 km of transmission lines.

The new power lines will carry energy from the Mejillones power plant in Antofagasta, which forms part of the SING grid, to the Cardones substation in Copiapó, in the northern region of Atacama, which is part of the SIC grid.

Chile currently imports 97 percent of the oil, gas and coal it uses, and its energy mix is made up of 63 percent thermal power, 34 percent hydroelectricity and three percent non-conventional renewable energy (NCRE) sources.

The Italian-Spanish firm Endesa-Enel wants to build a large dam on Lake Neltume, in the town of the same name in the Los Ríos region in southern Chile – a plan that is staunchly opposed by local residents, especially indigenous communities, which defend it as sacred territory. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The Italian-Spanish firm Endesa-Enel wants to build a large dam on Lake Neltume, in the town of the same name in the Los Ríos region in southern Chile – a plan that is staunchly opposed by local residents, especially indigenous communities, which defend it as sacred territory. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

This country’s shortage of energy sources has made the cost of electricity per megawatt/hour (MWh) for industry in Chile one of the highest in Latin America: over 150 dollars, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Energy Architecture Performance Index Report 2014.

That is the 13th highest cost in the world, and in the region it is only surpassed by the Dominican Republic’s 210 dollars per MWh, and Brazil and El Salvador, where the cost is 160 dollars per MWh.

“Chile has the highest cost of electricity in Latin America, and the power bill went up 30 percent in the last five years,” said Pacheco. “This has a strong impact on our families and hurts the competitiveness of our companies.”

He said the interconnection project, postponed for decades due to technical and technocratic reasons, “is an historic milestone” because it not only makes supply more efficient, stable and steady but also guarantees lower costs and gives a boost to the economy.

According to the National Energy Commission, the interconnection will bring 1.1 billion dollars in benefits to the country because of the drop in power grid costs and prices, linked to greater competition and a reduction of risks in the market.

“This has an enormous value given that it is equivalent to building approximately 35,000 social housing units. That is the magnitude of the economic benefit of this project for the country,” the minister stressed.

In concrete terms, households supplied by the SING northern grid will notice a 13 dollar drop in the price of MWh, while homes covered by the southern grid, SIC will see a three dollar drop.

In the case of industry, there will be an estimated 17 dollar reduction in the price per MWh in the north and nine dollars in the central and southern parts of the country.

In addition, “investment in the energy sector will increase, which will definitely be good news for our country,” Pacheco said.

But the economic benefits are not the only attractive aspect of the project. The minister said “the aim of the connection between the country’s two major grids is that the clean, abundant energy in the north can reach the centre and south.”

This means environmentalists share the government’s optimism.

Manuel Baquedano, director of the non-governmental Political Ecology Institute, told IPS that this is “one of the most important projects for the country” because it entails greater flexibility in energy management and, as a result, lower costs.

The expert pointed out that “the north has a surplus during the daytime” due to the enormous solar power potential in the Atacama desert, the world’s driest, while in the centre and south of the country, served by the SIC, “there is a surplus at night” because of the great hydropower potential.

As a result, he said, “each system can contribute to the other, producing a more stable supply and bolstering the use of NCRE sources, which require back-up energy sources.”

“It’s a key project, because Chile’s problem today is not generation but transmission of energy,” Baquedano said.

In her second term, which began in March 2014, President Michelle Bachelet promised to increase the share of energy produced by NCRE sources to 20 percent by 2025.

“Several of the measures proposed on the government’s agenda are aimed at meeting that goal, such as expanding the power grid, improving competitiveness in energy generation, and making the operation of the power grids more flexible,” the minister said.

He added that the future development of the power grids “will play a central role in facilitating compliance with that target at lower costs, taking advantage of the coordinated use of the transmission corridors.”

“What we are seeing is a proliferation of wind and solar power projects in the north, more than the construction of hydropower dams in the south. The public no longer tolerates megaprojects,” Baquedano said.

Against that backdrop, “I’m not afraid of the interconnection. On the contrary, I believe it is a very important element for the development of NCRE sources,” he concluded.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

Faith-Based Organisations Warn of Impending Nuclear Disaster

Dr. Emily Welty from WCC delivers the interfaith joint statement at the NPT Review Conference. Credit: Kimiaki Kawai/ SGI

Dr. Emily Welty from WCC delivers the interfaith joint statement at the NPT Review Conference. Credit: Kimiaki Kawai/ SGI

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, May 7 2015 (IPS)

As the month-long review conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) continued into its second week, a coalition of some 50 faith-based organisations (FBOs), anti-nuclear peace activists and civil society organisations (CSOs) was assigned an unenviable task: a brief three-minute presentation warning the world of the disastrous humanitarian consequences of a nuclear attack.

Accomplishing this feat within a rigid time frame, Dr. Emily Welty of the World Council of Churches (WCC) did not mince her words.Since August 1945, Dr. Welty told delegates, the continued existence of nuclear weapons has forced humankind to live in the shadow of apocalyptic destruction.

Speaking on behalf of the coalition, she told delegates: “We raise our voices in the name of sanity and the shared values of humanity. We reject the immorality of holding whole populations hostage, threatened with a cruel and miserable death.”

And she urged the world’s political leaders to muster the courage needed to break the deepening spirals of mistrust that undermine the viability of human societies and threaten humanity’s shared future.

She said nuclear weapons are incompatible with the values upheld by respective religious traditions – the right of people to live in security and dignity; the commands of conscience and justice; the duty to protect the vulnerable and to exercise the stewardship that will safeguard the planet for future generations.

“Nuclear weapons manifest a total disregard for all these values and commitments,” she declared, warning there is no countervailing imperative – whether of national security, stability in international power relations, or the difficulty of overcoming political inertia – that justifies their continued existence, much less their use.

Led by Peter Prove, director, Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, World Council of Churches, Susi Snyder, Nuclear Disarmament Programme Manager PAX and Hirotsugu Terasaki, executive director of Peace Affairs, Soka Gakkai International (SGI), the coalition also included Global Security Institute, Islamic Society of North America, United Church of Christ, Buddhist Peace Fellowship, Pax Christi USA and United Religions Initiative.

SGI, one of the relentless advocates of nuclear disarmament, was involved in three international conferences on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons (in Oslo, Norway in March 2013; Nayarit, Mexico in February 2014; and Vienna, Austria, December 2014), and also participated in two inter-faith dialogues on nuclear disarmament (in Washington DC, and Vienna over the last two years).

At both meetings, inter-faith leaders jointly called for the abolition of all nuclear weapons.

The current NPT review conference, which began Apr. 27, is scheduled to conclude May 22, perhaps with an “outcome document” – if it is adopted by consensus.

The review conference also marks the 70th anniversary of the U.S. nuclear attack on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II.

Since August 1945, when both cities were subjected to atomic attacks, Dr Welty told delegates, the continued existence of nuclear weapons has forced humankind to live in the shadow of apocalyptic destruction.

“Their use would not only destroy the past fruits of human civilization, it would disfigure the present and consign future generations to a grim fate.”

For decades, the coalition of FBOs said, the obligation and responsibility of all states to eliminate these weapons of mass destruction has been embodied in Article VI of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).

But progress toward the fulfillment of this repeatedly affirmed commitment has been too slow – and today almost imperceptible.

Instead, ongoing modernisation programmes of the world’s nuclear arsenals is diverting vast resources from limited government budgets when public finances are hard-pressed to meet the needs of human security.

“This situation is unacceptable and cannot be permitted to continue,” the coalition said.

The London Economist pointed out recently that every nuclear power is spending “lavishly to upgrade its atomic arsenal.”

Russia’s defence budget has increased by over 50 percent since 2007, a third of it earmarked for nuclear weapons: twice the share of France.

China is investing in submarines and mobile missile batteries while the United States is seeking Congressional approval for 350 billion dollars for the modernisation of its nuclear arsenal.

The world’s five major nuclear powers are the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia – and the non-declared nuclear powers include India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea.

The coalition pledged to: communicate within respective faith communities the inhumane and immoral nature of nuclear weapons and the unacceptable risks they pose, working within and among respective faith traditions to raise awareness of the moral imperative to abolish nuclear weapons; and continue to support international efforts to ban nuclear weapons on humanitarian grounds and call for the early commencement of negotiations by states on a new legal instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons in a forum open to all states and blockable by none.

The coalition also called on the world’s governments to: heed the voices of the world’s hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) urging the abolition of nuclear weapons, whose suffering must never be visited on any other individual, family or society; take to heart the realities clarified by successive international conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons; take concrete action leading to the complete elimination of nuclear weapons, consistent with existing obligations under the NPT; and associate themselves with the pledge delivered at the Vienna Conference and pursue effective measures to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com