Aguas Blancas is a company established to develop, build, and operate a photovoltaic power plant with 8.8 MWp of nominal capacity in the Antofagasta Region of Chile.
The energy generated by the project will be sold to Atacama Minerals Chile (AMC) under a 15-year power purchase agreement (PPA).
The total cost of the project is US$27.4 million and includes the construction of a 13.2 kV, 3.5 km transmission line to deliver the energy to Aguas Blancas’ existing substation, owned by AMC.
The aim of this IIC operation is to provide Aguas Blancas with financing to develop, build, and operate the new photovoltaic plant.
Environmental and Labor Issues:
This is a category B project according to the IIC’s Environmental and Social Sustainability Policy, because it could produce certain effects that may be avoided or mitigated by following generally recognized performance standards, guidelines, or design criteria. The main environmental and social considerations related to the project involve efficient resource use and pollution prevention, labor and working conditions, community health and safety, and cultural heritage. Construction has not yet begun on either the photovoltaic solar park or the transmission line. The project’s environmental impact statement was prepared by Poch Ambiental of Chile and submitted to the Environmental Evaluation Service (Sistema de Evaluación de Impacto Ambiental – SEIA) of the Antofagasta Region in October 2012.
Topography and Environment: The site of the solar park is located in a desert region outside urban boundaries and away from any type of urban settlement. The site is not located in an area of interest for tourism. It lies 115 km from the Llullaillaco National Park, 79 km from the La Chimba National Reserve, and 170 km from Salar de Atacama, Chile’s largest salt flat. There are no protected areas, priority conservation sites, protected wetlands, or glaciers in the vicinity of the project. The site is classified as desert land devoid of vegetation and with gentle slopes. The project will not involve any displacement or resettlement of local residents. The area’s main economic activity is mining and related services. Consequently, the visual characteristics of the landscape are already altered by public roads and service roads for mining operations, power lines, and mineral processing plants. The project does not impact areas of scenic or tourism value.
Impact on Flora: The climate of the project site is extremely arid. The site has no water resources and historical records show that it receives extremely low precipitation (annual rainfall of 4 mm). The air is very dry (35% average humidity) and daytime and nighttime temperatures vary by approximately 20 °C. The area in which the project is located is classified as an absolute desert, entirely devoid of plant life. There is no record of terrestrial plants, plant tissues, or seeds. Consequently, the project will have no impact on flora.
Impact on Wildlife: The fact that the area is classified as absolute desert devoid of vegetation means that virtually no fauna are present. The field visits conducted indirectly detected three species of wildlife: two bird species—the chercán (a type of grasswren) and jote de cabeza roja (a type of turkey vulture)—and one mammal species (fox). Only the fox species is classified in the “minor concern” category, according to the Chilean classification system. The study concludes that the project will have no impact on fauna.
Air Emissions: Most air emissions will occur during the construction phase, originating from vehicles and machinery operated by the contractors. In addition to gas emissions from internal combustion engines, vehicle traffic will generate fugitive dust emissions. In order to mitigate gas emissions, engine maintenance and technical inspections will be performed regularly in accordance with the manufacturer’s specifications. To mitigate the impact of fugitive dust, vehicle operators will be required to drive slowly on unpaved surfaces; roads will be hosed down, as necessary; and all materials transported, as well as the temporary mounds resulting from the excavation of ditches and foundations, will be covered.
There will be no air emissions during the operational phase, save those generated by inspections, maintenance work, or occasional repairs.
Noise and Electromagnetic Emissions: During the operational phase, the main source of noise will be the electromagnetic field around the high-voltage lines (the corona effect). According to the studies carried out, the noise levels generated during project operations will not have a significant impact, considering the planned voltage levels, distance to potential receptors, existing ambient noise, and normal environmental conditions. The studies also emphasize that the combined effects of the project and AMC’s operations are within permissible limits.
Electrical and magnetic fields will also be generated during the operational phase. Furthermore, radio and television interference may occur. The studies also indicate that these fields and interference will remain well below the limits established under the regulations of the United States and Canada.
Cultural and Archaeological Heritage: A study of the site of the solar park and route of the transmission line detected certain historical artifacts from different eras. One was a lithic core dating back to the pre-Colombian era and the rest were from later periods and associated with mining activities (e.g., cart tracks and shards from glass bottles). In order to preserve the heritage areas detected, fences and signage will be installed. Moreover, should historical artifacts or sites be discovered during the construction process, work will be suspended and the National Monuments Council will be notified so that it may establish the appropriate protection measures.
Solid Waste Management: Most of the solid waste will be generated during the construction phase and treated in the same way as waste generated in the operational phase. Any non-hazardous industrial waste generated during construction or maintenance activities (e.g., plastic, wood, iron, cardboard, wire, and metal) will be temporarily stored in salvage yards for pick-up by recycling companies or deposited in authorized landfills. Domestic waste will be temporarily stored in sealed containers for collection by licensed firms. The particular solar panels used in the project do not contain hazardous substances. Consequently, any replacement of panels due to defect or panel-related maintenance will not generate hazardous waste.
Liquid Waste Management: Most liquid waste will be generated during the construction phase, owing to the increased presence of workers. In all working areas where required, portable toilets and showers will be provided for workers and managed by a licensed external contractor. Once operational, the project will employ six people. A restroom facility equipped with a septic tank will be built in accordance with local standards. This septic tank will be cleaned regularly, resulting in a small amount of sewage sludge that will be treated by a service provider and disposed of in accordance with the pertinent regulations. The solar panels will be cleaned regularly—approximately two to three times per year—with deionized water, which will evaporate or be absorbed into the ground and contain only small amounts of ambient dust.
Insofar as possible, vehicle maintenance will be carried out in the city of Antofagasta to avoid generating hazardous waste (oils) on site. Fuel will not be stored at the project site and sealed electrical transformers requiring no maintenance will be used.
The use of concrete will be kept to a minimum and only when required to install solar tracking systems where the terrain is not suitable for mechanically installed support piles. A closed-loop system will be employed to clean concrete mixer trucks. Once the waste has hardened, it will be sent to an authorized site for final disposal. In this way, wastewater resulting from cleaning trucks and machinery will be kept to a minimum.
Occupational Health and Safety: Aguas Blancas has developed a risk prevention and accident management plan addressing the main occupational risks, which include fires, traffic accidents, accidents resulting in employee injuries, earthquakes, environmental emergencies (hazardous spills), and adverse weather conditions (rain, wind, etc.). The plan provides for the allocation of responsibilities, formation of a contingency committee, and development of the procedures to be followed, including those concerning communications and emergency monitoring (assessment, proposals for corrective action).
Labor and Social Issues: Aguas Blancas complies with Chilean labor laws and International Labor Organization (ILO) standards. Core labor standards include social security contributions, freedom of association to form labor unions, nondiscrimination in the workplace, and the prohibition of child labor. Workers and their dependents receive medical coverage.
Monitoring and Reporting: Aguas Blancas will implement an environmental and social action plan (ESAP) to ensure compliance with the IIC’s environmental and occupational health and safety requirements. Activities under the ESAP will include the implementation of a contingency plan and an environmental monitoring plan. The company will submit annual progress reports to the IIC on implementation of the ESAP.