Chile's Bachelet administration touts progress in the solar sector

Chile’s Ministry of National Heritage has announced that in the seven months since Chile’s center-left President Michele Bachelet took office the nation has granted 76 land concessions for renewable energy totaling 21,400 hectares of public land in the north of the nation.

This includes concessions for 70 solar projects, and the administration compares this to only 74 concessions in 3½ years under the previous center-right administration.

Additionally, the administration notes the huge increase in renewable energy projects that have begun construction in the 2014. According to the August report by Chile’s Center for Renewable Energy (CER), 487 MW-AC of solar PV projects are currently under construction.

Michele Bachelet included solar as a theme of her campaign, which featured a PV system at its headquarters. But however much the Bachelet Administration would like to take credit for this increase, analysts state that the rush of project starts in 2014 is not due to any external policy factors, and solar plants in Chile are being built without feed-in tariffs or incentives.

Under Bachelet there has been modest progress on policies to support distributed generation. Accompanying the announcement of concessions, the Bachelet Administration has announced a four-year, US$13 million program to support solar on public buildings. “Public Solar Roofs” will target areas with strong natural solar resources and high electricity prices. The government notes that the program will also provide real-world data on the economics of self-consumption PV systems in Chile.

And despite the large volume of utility-scale projects under construction in the nation, Chile’s distributed generation sector is almost non-existent. Analysts cite a lack of policy support, as the nation currently has neither net metering or feed-in tariffs.

Chile’s parliament passed net metering legislation in early 2012, but this has yet to be actualized with the necessary regulations. “We have been waiting for publication of regulations for distributed generation that allows generators of less than 100 kilowatts,” says Verónica Munita, director of the Chilean Solar Energy Association (ACESOL). “We only have self-consumption for solar energy and other renewable energy, but it is not possible to inject into the grid.”

This task of finalizing regulations was left uncompleted by the previous administration and has not yet been fixed by the Bachelet Administration.