Social acceptance of major energy projects in Chile

Jimena Jara, State Secretary of Chilean Ministry of Energy; Photo: GIZ 4eChile

Jimena Jara, State Secretary of Chilean Ministry of Energy; Photo: GIZ 4eChile

Chile’s Ministry of Energy and the country’s Association for Renewable Energies ACERA unveiled a method for assessing the social acceptance of major energy projects at a seminar held in January in Santiago de Chile. Over 90 representatives from politics, civil society and the private sector attended the event, which had been organised as part of a project funded by the International Climate Initiative (IKI) of the German Federal Environment Ministry (BMUB) geared towards promoting the use of solar energy in Chile.

Since 2014, the country has experienced a rapid growth in renewables, which now account for over 20 per cent of installed production capacity. Up until now, most of this energy has been generated by large-scale solar and wind farms. As well as improved spatial planning, delivering projects of this kind also requires evidence of acceptance on the part of the communities that are being affected, whether directly or indirectly. Above all else, this means determining how the level of acceptance among the relevant population groups can be increased, what aspects need to be taken into account and when the process of liaising with the locals has to begin.

Questions from the audience; Photo: GIZ 4eChileDuring the event, Jimena Jara, Undersecretary of Energy at the Ministry of Energy, explained the standards that her ministry had formulated for involving the local population, which have already been used in 50 energy-related projects. The standards, similarly to Chile’s energy policy up to 2050 and its policy guideline on sustainable local development, also take account of the country’s indigenous population. 

The Ministry of Energy is stressing that the only way to meet its climate targets by growing renewable energy sources and further expanding the grid is to act in agreement with the sections of civil society that are affected. With support from the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, the Department for Dialogue and Civil Society at the ministry has therefore developed an evaluation index for gauging social acceptance (IAS) for major energy projects in partnership with the company Pullen & Dockendorff.  

The index is structured as a matrix with four different dimensions: proposals from civil society, offers extended to the communities, the environment, and links between the stakeholders. ‘This index is designed to create a way of defining what the key expectations of the affected population groups are and to deliver quantitative findings concerning the positive impact of future large-scale renewables projects,’ explained Ana Almonacid, a local expert working on the GIZ energy programme.

She revealed that all energy projects, including large-scale ones involving renewables, were delicate issues as far as acceptance by the locals was concerned, making it all the more important to treat their involvement as a key element in project development. ‘When doubts are taken seriously at an early stage and you make a joint effort to ease them, and when information is passed on promptly and you can demonstrate how well these new technologies are working elsewhere, then you can build a foundation of trust between the companies and the communities,’ emphasises Claudio Bustamante, Deputy Director of the Chilean Agency for Sustainability and Climate Change.

Developed in conjunction with the implementation of major renewable energy projects in Chile, the evaluation index is transferable to other countries and is already attracting interest from Mexico, Peru and Bolivia. 

The presentations from the seminar are available to the general public on www.4echile.cl.