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02 Jul 2013 03:07:17

Solar and community relations: sharing best practice essential to PV growth

With nearly 6GW of solar now having been approved by Chile’s national environmental agency, a huge number of local consultations and community impact studies will have been carried out.

At present, legal precedents and few clear guidelines have meant that communities play a powerful role in the environmental approval process and the PV community in Chile needs to work hard to provide value for local communities to ensure their projects can go ahead.

Even though communities around the world may welcome renewable energy and solar in principle, the reality of solar development and the use of lands can throw up difficulties. As has been seen in the USA, the impact of construction work can lead to intense dust clouds, noise and temporary rather than permanent employment opportunities. What’s more, land and natural resource usage is a contentious issue in Chile and can become very politicised.

At present, the impact of solar projects on a community is assessed through studies submitted to Chile’s national environmental agency and it is at this point that if communities are unhappy with the plans, they can withhold their approval or launch a court claim. Chile has an active civil society movement in this arena especially due to the mining industry’s local engagement. However, It is not just mining projects which have been declined due to a failure to properly evaluate the impact of a development on the local community; a wind project in the area of Chiloé is on hold due to the lack of a proper consultation. Notwithstanding the possibility that the project will not go ahead, the legal and resource costs that come about from these problems add serious dollars to the budget.

At present communities are unlikely to be direct off-takers of utility-scale PV in Chile, and thus value needs to demonstrated through job creation, engagement and increased capacity and investment in the area. With as many as 100 developers now conducting these studies and consulting local communities, standard practices and approaches need to be developed now to ensure that PV has a long and profitable future in Chile. Fair and respectful mediation practices need to be adopted by all to ensure that PV builds a good reputation in the country.

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