Chile Becoming a Hot Geothermal Market

The Chilean government is getting serious about geothermal. Last week, the country’s energy minister said that Chile will support over $200 million in geothermal investments over the next two years.

Ricardo Raineri announced that Chile will grant over 170 concessions to geothermal developers through 2012. He expects the concessions to result in hundreds of millions of dollars in investment from international companies.

Raineri also said he will work with the legislature to help make the regulatory process smoother for companies wanting to develop projects in the country.

Giving concessions and speeding up the regulatory process are important steps, but they do not guarantee a project will be developed. The success of the program can only be measured after many years of exploration and development have taken place.

There are signs that the market is taking off, however.

Companies like Ram Power, Magma Energy and Ormat have been making more announcements about potential projects in the Central and South American region. And the biggest project in Chile – a 40 MW facility developed by the Italian utility Enel – is underway and will come online in the next few years.

To the east of Chile, the developer Geothermal One is in the process of building a 30 MW power plant in Argentina. The project will cover a quarter of the electricity needs of the southern province of Neuquen where it will be built.

The completion of the project will be another success story in this emerging market. But it is also a reminder of how long it can take to build out geothermal power plants. The local government has been looking at the feasibility of the project since 1973.

So why is geothermal such a great idea for the region? Well, when your local mountain range (if local is 4,300 miles long) lets off steam like this, you know you’ve got a good resource.

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