Chile's Atacama region proves major attraction for developers

Developers have applied for environmental licenses for seven photovoltaic projects totaling 658 MW in Chile’s Atacama region in the months of June and July.

Chile’s Energy Ministry has put the combined value of the projects at $1.47 billion.

The seven solar plants are expected to include a total of 3.5 million solar panels that would cover a total area of 1,865 hectares, according to the environment impact declarations submitted by the investors. All seven solar plants would supply generated electricity to Chile’s central electricity grid (SIC), the ministry explained.

Santiago-based Central Solar Desierto I Spa submitted a request to develop the 20 MW Central Solar Chaka for $57 million in Diego de Almagro commune. The solar plant is expected to use Suntech STP 250-2/Wd polycrystalline modules. Central Solar Desierto I Spa is a company controlled by Chile’s energy company Schwager Energy. Chile’s environmental evaluation service (SEA) has until Oct. 23 to decide whether it approves the environmental impact declaration (EID) submitted for the project, which will generate 60 GWh per year. Construction is due to start on Oct. 31.

Developer Valleland SpA, also from Santiago, submitted an EID for the Valleland Solar project that encompasses the 30 MW Valleland II and 30 MW Valleland III in Vallenar commune for an estimated $151 million. The plants, which will have a combined installed capacity of 67.14 MWp, will consist of 139,860 Hanwha Solar 240Wp HSL 60 (or similar) polycrystalline solar panels each oriented with 6,600 Ercam Solar Tracking Systems (or similar) one-axis trackers. The project is backed by Spain’s CGS Renovables. SEA has until Sept. 26 to approve the EID. Construction is due to start in August 2014.

Also in Vallenar, Avenir Solar Energy Chile from Santiago proposed the construction of 196 MW El Romero Solar that would annually generate 482 GWh of electricity. The company will invest $450 million in the plant, which will consist of Tenesol TE220/240-60P? polycrystalline modules and JEMA Serie IF inverters. SEA has until Sept. 25 to approve the project’s EID, with construction set to start on Oct. 14.

Renewable energy developer First Solar Energía Ltda submitted an EID to SEA for the construction of 162.36 MW Luz del Norte photovoltaic plant in Copiapó commune that will supply 477.863 GWh to the SIC electricity grid. The plant, which will require an investment of $370 million, will consist of 1,710,720 photovoltaic thin-film CdTe First Solar FS3 modules. SEA has until Oct. 14 to approve the project; construction would begin in June 2014.

Another photovoltaic project worth $100 million is being readied for Copiapó commune by developer Inca de Varas I. The 50 MW Inca de Varas I solar plant will consist of 216,000 photovoltaic panels guided by one-axis trackers. The plant’s 235Wp polycrystalline panels will be grouped into 50 blocks of 1MWac with 4,320 panels in each block. SEA has until Oct. 28 to approve the project, which would begin construction in March 2014.

Santiago-based renewable energy company Powener Generación S.A. applied to develop the 120 MW Desierto de Atacama PV plant in Atacama’s Tierra Amarilla commune. The park, which is worth an estimated $220 million, will consist of 480,000 Conergy PX 250 panels. The EID for Desierto de Atacama has to be approved by Chilean authorities by Oct. 23; construction would start in June 2014.

Finally, also in Tierra Amarilla commune, Solairedirect Generación V SpA from Las Condes is planning to install the 50.22 MW Los Loros solar park worth $120 million. The company, a subsidiary of France’s Solairedirect, will use 300Wp ReneSola Virtus II photovoltaic modules supplied by Solairedirect. The deadline for approval of the plant’s EID is Oct. 24, with construction due to start in March 2014.

Luis Eduardo Cantellano, the regional secretary of Chile’s Energy Ministry in Atacama and Coquimbo regions, said the high interest for solar energy development "confirms excellent [solar] radiation conditions" that exist in the zone, which is why "developers see a real opportunity, considering also the electricity sale price and [cost of] raw materials."