By the Potencia correspondent

The production of electricity in the Latin American region is experiencing a period in which the harnessing of renewable energy resources (RES) such as wind and solar projects are on the rise. The potential of other RES, such as geothermal and tidal are also being investigated in some of the region’s countries.

This ‘renewable energy era’, however, does not mean that traditional power generation such as hydropower and fossil fuel (coal, gas and oil) power plant will not be built, but plans for large-scale hydropower and thermoelectric power stations continue to face huge difficulties in achieving approval.

Protests from environmentalists and local native associations have resulted in many developers ending up in court. The protesters believe that these mega-projects damage the environment and therefore are against their construction.

One of the most famous mega-projects which has ended up in court is Brazil’s Belo Monte. This hydroelectric facility is expected to have a capacity of over 11,000 MW once completed, but ongoing protests from local communities, supported by environmental groups, are continuously delaying its construction.

Concerns with the project relate to the amount of Amazon rainforest that would be lost.

However, following the latest delay, the Federal Court of Brazil’s First Region in October rejected the complaints and ordered the restart of construction work, reported the Spanish news agency Efe.

Belo Monte is said to require an investment of $10.6bn, and once completed will be the world’s third biggest hydroelectric dam, after China’s Three Gorges and Itaipu, located at the border between Brazil and Paraguay.

Another large-scale hydro project that is experiencing delays because of environmental concerns is Chile’s Hidroaysen complex, which involves the construction of five hydroelectric dams in the southern region of Aysen.

The total installed capacity of Hidroaysen will be 2750 MW, but protests from environmental groups have delayed the start of construction several times.

The imminent change of government in Chile, where socialist Michelle Bachellet succeeds conservative Sebastian Pinera, will be critical for HidroAysen’s future. Bachellet believes Hidroaysen is not viable but she has said she will wait for additional environmental impact studies t be conducted.

If the Hidroaysen project is approved, Endesa Chile and Colbun will need to invest $8-10bn, according to Reuters. However, Endesa Chile recently announced that although it had no plans to cancel the project, it no longer saw Hidroaysen as a priority.

Large thermal projects also face similar challenges when seeking construction approval.

Again in Chile, the 740 MW Punta Alcalde coal-fired power plant has been delayed many times because of court action.

Punta Alcalde, which is also being built by Spain’s Endesa, is located in the northern region of Atacama, but has come under-fire from both social and environmental groups, as well as from the Huasco municipality.

However, despite this opposition, the Punta Alcalde project was recently authorised by Chile’s Supreme Court of Justice.

So, despite the growth in what is termed ‘non-conventional’ renewable energy, both large-scale thermal and hydroelectricity is likely to remain an important part of Latin America’s energy mix as the region continues to develop and modernize its power system and bring electricity to more and more of its citizens.

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