Energía Austral's large hydro in Chile back on track

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Friday, August 16, 2013

Energía Austral has submitted supreme court-ordered geo-volcanic studies for a 1.1GW hydro in Chile for the project's main Cuervo plant to environmental authorities in region XI and is evaluating a submarine cable option to solve the project's transmission conundrum, according to chairman Ben Bolot.

The underwater transmission option would be a much less invasive alternative and is a technology with which the JV's main partner Australia's Origin Energy (ASX: ORG) has experience, including a 290km submarine line to Tasmania and a project to connect a 2.5GW hydro in Papua New Guinea to Australia via a 250km undersea cable. The 49% partner in the JV is Switzerland's Glencore Xstrata.

The Energía Austral triple-dam (640MW Cuervo, 360W Blanco 15MW+ SHP Blanquito and 50MW Condor) project is quietly being developed in the same part of Patagonia as the 2.75GW HidroAysén hydro, which has sparked controversy in Chile over the way in which the project, approximately 1,500km south of Santiago, will be connected main power grid.

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The two firms signed a non-binding MOU in 2011 to work together to find transmission synergies for their planned power plants.

HidroAysén is waiting on the government's ministerial committee to meet to resolve the claims regarding the environmental permit submitted by the company and the project's opponents. The revision process is near finished, Chile's environment minister María Ignacia Benítez was quoted saying by local media.

In related news, the senate mining and energy committee's chairman Baldo Prokurica has presented a proposal to the energy ministry to increase the compensation paid by companies to communities surrounding power plants as a way to reduce the local opposition and "judicialization" of energy projects, such as what is happening with Endesa Chile's 740MW Punta Alcalde coal-fired plant and what happened to the 2.1GW Castilla and 566MW Barrancones thermo projects.