Santa María power station

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{{#badges:CoalSwarm|Navbar-Chilecoal}}Santa María power station (also known as Complejo Termoeléctrico Santa María de Coronel) is a 370-megawatt (MW) coal-fired power station in Coronel, approximately 500 kilometres south of Santiago, Chile. A second, 404MW unit proposed at the same site was cancelled in June 2017.


The undated satellite photo below shows the plant, which is near Coronel, VIII District, Chile.

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The first 370MW unit was initially scheduled for completion in 2010.[1][2] However, following a major earthquake in Chile, Colbún announced that the start-up date for the project would be pushed back.[3] The first unit went into operation in August 2012.[4]

In December 2012, the national fishermen's alliance Confepach (Confederación de Pescadores Artesanales de Chile) filed a lawsuit against the plant in Concepción's appeals court, claiming that despite having passed successfully through Chile's Environmental Impact Assessment process, the plant was operating illegally, as it did not have the necessary permits to extract seawater used in cooling the plant.[5] In April 2013, Confepach and the local association of seaweed harvesters filed another environmental lawsuit against the plant, alleging that it was responsible for large numbers of dead fish and shellfish washed up on local beaches two weeks earlier, and that its permit only allowed for the intake of seawater, not marine organisms.[6][7]

In October 2013, the Chilean environmental agency Superintendencia del Medio Ambiente determined that the plant had violated provisions of its 2007 RCA (Resolución de Calificación Ambiental) environmental license, making it liable for up to US$5 million in fines, partial or total closure of the plant and possible revocation of its license. In its assessment, the agency cited problems with the plant's filtering system, stating that adequate measures had not been taken to address the potential biological consequences of sucking in massive amounts of seawater to cool the plant.[8] In the aftermath of this incident, Colbún announced plans to install new filters to address the problem.[9]

In February 2014, following yet another incident of dead marine life washed ashore near the plant, Senator Alejandro Navarro demanded further action from the courts and the government environmental agency to protect the plant's neighbors and local workers who make their livelihood from the sea.[10] In November 2014, the trade magazine Electricidad reported that new state-of-the-art filters, installed by Colbún at the end of 2013 at a cost of $5 million, were over 99% effective in preventing the intake of algae and small marine organisms, and 100% effective in blocking the intake of fish and larger species into the plant's cooling system.[11]

As of July 2014, the second unit of Santa María power station remained on hold pending signs of clear support from the government. Plant operator Colbún said that it was awaiting the outcome of an appeals court case against the nearby Bocamina power plant, which it said would help clarify prevailing government attitudes to coal-fired power in the Bíobío region. If the Santa María II project goes ahead, its construction is expected to take approximately 40 months.[12]

In January 2015, the Chilean business journal Pulso reported that Colbún was still seeking community support for the plant's expansion and hoping to begin construction on the plant's second unit before the end of 2015.[13] An April 2015 article in Economía y Negocios quoted Colbún president Bernardo Larraín as saying that his company was engaged in a thorough analysis of the social, environmental and economic impacts of the proposed expansion, noting that the second unit already had the necessary permits but that there was no set date for construction to begin.[14]

As of late 2016, the Unit 2 expansion project remained "under development" but had not yet been approved by Colbún's board of directors, according to a November 2016 report from Fitch Ratings.[15] A February 2017 report stated that, out of Chile's four main electric generating companies — Endesa, AES, Engie and Colbún — the Santa María Unit 2 was the only remaining coal unit in development.[16]

In June 2017, citing unsustainable economic conditions and a lack of community support, the project's General Manager Thomas Keller announced that Colbún would cancel development of the second unit of the Santa María power station.[17][18][19]

In January 2018, the Environmental Court of Valdivia partially upheld a claim made by 998 residents of Coronel against the Superintendency of Environment (SMA) and ordered it to sanction the Santa María plant for operating with a capacity and specifications different from those authorized in its Environmental Qualification Resolution (RCA).[20] Specifically, the Court upheld claims that the plant was operating at a higher capacity than authorized, 370 MW instead of 350 MW, and that the dimensions of a chimney differed from those in the RCA.[20]

Project development

The project is being developed by Colbún, a major Chilean power generation company with both hydro and fossil fuel plants. The power station is being constructed by Posco Engineering & Construction.[21]

The engineering consultancy firm GHD states on its website that since 2006 it has advised Colbún on the project. GHD states that the first unit will comprise "a 350 MW pulverized coal combustion plant with a seawater desulfurization system, electrostatic particulate removal and low NOx burners." GHD also states that it has advised Colbún on various aspects of the project including:[1]

  • "Assessment of coal use to compare the imported coal with local sub-bituminous options";
  • "Coal Forward Pricing Assessment to give a snapshot of coal supply market pricing, and some guidance on pricing pressures in the near to medium term";
  • "Presentation of the sustainability of coal fired power plants (using modern technology) to the Chilean environmental authority, CONAMA";
  • "Coal Handling Plant design engineering with stack conveyor, tripper and reclaim conveyor tunnel for the operation of the two 350 MW units. Guidance on concept design of ash containment structures and advice on slope stability of saturated ash stockpiles, and on prevention of groundwater leachate"; and
  • "Technical and economic bid review services for the proposed 350 MW Unit 2 at Coronel".

In an article titled "Coal to the rescue", GHD stated that as part of the work on the Complejo Termico Santa María de Coronel power station proposal it had "hosted a visit to Australia by a delegation of Colbún executives to view coal fired power stations and discuss coal contracts with Australian mining companies. GHD’s Australian power and coal mining clients were pleased to share their knowledge with the Chileans. GHD’s success continues in Chile with a second Colbún project under development and other power project proponents have engaged GHD to assist in the development of their coal fired projects. GHD is also providing maintenance and trouble shooting advice to some of the combined cycle plants."[22]

Project Details

  • Sponsor: Colbún
  • Parent company: Colbún
  • Location: Coronel, VIII Region, Chile
  • Coordinates: -37.0421, -73.1308 (exact)
  • Status:
    • Unit 1: Operating
    • Unit 2: Canceled
  • Gross Capacity:
    • Unit 1: 370MW
    • Unit 2: 404MW
  • Type: Subcritical
  • Projected in service:
  • Coal Type: Bituminous
  • Coal Source:
  • Source of financing:

Articles and resources


  1. 1.0 1.1 GHD, "Santa María Power Station", GHD website, accessed May 2010.
  2. Anthony Esposito, "Chile Rio Grande Submits Study For $1.40B, 700-MW Coal Plant", Wall Street Journal, February 25, 2010.
  3. "Chile's Colbún delays thermal plant due to quake", Reuters, April 23, 2010.
  4. Santa Maria, Colbún website, accessed January 2013.
  5. "Denuncian que termoeléctrica Santa María de Colbún funciona de manera ilegal en Coronel," website, December 17, 2012.
  6. "Piden a la justicia que paralice termoeléctrica de Colbún en Coronel," Veo Verde, April 11, 2013.
  7. "Algueras y pescadores de Coronel presentan recurso contra Colbún por varazones," website, April 11, 2013.
  8. "Autoridad formula cargos contra Colbún por fallas medioambientales," La Tercera, November 1, 2013.
  9. "Termoeléctrica Santa María instalará filtros para evitar la succión de especies marinas," El Dínamo, November 26, 2013.
  10. "“Termoeléctrica Bocamina Endesa la paralizamos, ahora vamos por Santa María de Colbún”," Mapu Express, February 3, 2014.
  11. "Colbún instala inéditos filtros de agua marina en Central Santa María I," Electricidad, November 18, 2014.
  12. "Termoeléctrica de Colbún: Santa María II seguirá en compás de espera mientras sigue paralizada Bocamina II," CBC, July 9, 2014.
  13. "Colbún da otro paso para reactivar Central Termoeléctrica Santa María II," Pulso, January 11, 2015.
  14. "Termoeléctrica Santa María II continúa en análisis y sin plazos", Economía y Negocios, April 23, 2015.
  15. "Fitch Affirms Colbun S.A.'s IDR at 'BBB'; Outlook Stable", Fitch Ratings press release, November 14, 2016.
  16. Carboneras en retirada: sólo un proyecto en construcción y ningún ingreso al SEA en 2016, Electricidad: La revista energética de Chile, 17 Feb. 2017.
  17. "Colbún decidió no ampliar termoeléctrica Santa María de Coronel",, June 23, 2017.
  18. "Colbún decide no completar su complejo termoeléctrico Santa María de Coronel",, June 23, 2017.
  19. "Colbún frena segunda etapa de termoeléctrica Santa María", El Mercurio, June 24, 2017.
  20. 20.0 20.1 Tribunal Ambiental inició proceso sancionatorio a Central Santa María, Diario Concepcion, Jan. 24, 2018
  21. Paulo Winterstein and James Attwood, "Hypermarcas, La Polar, Marfrig: Latin American Equity Preview", Bloomberg, April 1, 2010.
  22. GHD, "Coal to the Rescue in Chile", GHD website, accessed May 2010.

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