Latin American market takeoff -- Chile projects rolling

Chile is set to put itself firmly on the wind map, with three wind plants expected online by the end of 2009. Turbine contracts are firmed up for 106 MW, with another 45 MW waiting in the wings. "Chile's wind market is now really starting to move," says Esteban Illanes from SN Power, a Norwegian company that has just ordered 23 Vestas 2 MW turbines for its $140 million Totoral project in the northern Coquimbo region, about 300 kilometres north of Santiago. Turbine delivery is expected in April and the project will be completed in the second quarter of 2009. A power purchaser is being lined up, says Illanes.

Utility Endesa Chile is another company set to install wind turbines next year. It has set aside $141 million to add 60 MW of Acciona 1.5 MW turbines to its Canela I wind farm, made up of 11 Vestas 1.65 MW turbines. At 18 MW, Canela I is the largest wind farm in Chile and came online a year ago.

Meantime, Irish company Mainstream Renewable Power, headed by Eddie O'Connor, has signed a joint venture deal with local Chilean developer Andes Energy to pursue wind plant construction. Andes Mainstream SA says its first project will be the 35 MW Laguna Verde wind farm in the Valparaiso region, to come online in the second half of 2009.

The firm is still studying wind data, but expects to secure 2 MW turbines, likely from German manufacturer Siemens. Under the terms of the agreement, Mainstream will hold a 90% share of the joint venture, with Andes Energy taking a 10% stake. The venture aims to build 400 MW of wind power in Chile.

Aside from Canela I, Chile's only other wind plant so far is Alto Baguales. With a combined capacity of 2 MW, it was Chile's first wind plant when installed in 2001. Tarek Daruich, an engineer with Andes Energy, says wind power is in its early phase in the country, but that Chile's energy ministry and many private companies are busy installing dozens of anemometers masts in the north of the country. He says international mining companies such as Barrick are planning wind power projects along with specialist energy companies. Most projects are now passing through the licensing phase. Among the project developers is Handels und Finanz, which is in talks with Vestas for five 2 MW turbines. If the purchase is confirmed, the 10 MW Llay Llay wind park will come online in 2009, says the company's Francisco Moreno.

The rush of projects has been sparked by Chile's new renewable energy law, Energías Renovables No Convencionales (ERNC). Unanimously passed by parliament earlier this year, the law sets a minimum level for the proportion of renewables that must be included in all electricity sold to consumers. The requirement begins at 5% renewables between 2010 and 2014 and increases 0.5% annually from 2015 until reaching 10% in 2024.

Moreno is reluctant to overplay the impact of the new law. He says that while it helps, most wind projects are happening independent of the law. "It is viewed as a bonus," he says. Daruich agrees that the new law is helping to woo utilities to invest in renewable energy. "The big explosion will come in 2009," he predicts.

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