Cablegate: Chilean Congress Well-Informed On Energy Issues, Eager for U.S. Cooperation


DE RUEHSG #0715 2172044
O 042044Z AUG 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. SUMMARY. Chile's Senate Energy Committee has a solid grasp of Chile's energy challenge and an eagerness for further cooperation with the U.S. on energy issues. Members told the Ambassador July 30 Chile must become more energy independent, and proposed a variety of options--from energy conservation to nuclear and renewable power to greater political incentives for petroleum exploration--to achieve this goal. END SUMMARY.

2. The Ambassador traveled to Valparaiso at the request of the Senate Energy and Mining Commission Chair Ricardo Nunez to discuss U.S.-Chile cooperation on energy issues. Nunez was joined by Senators Jose Antonio Gomez, Carlos Bianchi, Jaime Orpis, and Baldo Procurica. Ambassador was accompanied by E/Pol Counselor, Political Officer, and E/Pol Specialist. Septel will report on the Ambassador's meetings with Senate President Adolfo Zaldivar and Chamber of Deputies Acting President Guillermo Ceroni, held in conjunction with this visit.

Senators Keenly Interested in Energy Solutions
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3. The committee represents parties from across the political spectrum but is united in its concern about Chile's energy dependence and in its eagerness for cooperation with the U.S. on energy research and policy innovations. Chile's energy needs are significant. Senator Baldo Procurica, from the center-right Renovacion Nacional party, noted that Chile is likely to consume twice as much electricity in 2020 as it does today. In addition, Chile's economic growth is closely linked to its use of energy, particularly because the country's copper industry is very energy intensive. If Chile wants its economy to grow, Independent Sen. Carlos Bianchi said, it has to fix its energy problem.

4. Several senators noted that almost all new investment in power generation in Chile has been in coal-burning plants despite the attendant pollution and climate change problems. Procurica noted that investment in new sources of energy takes time, and that Chile is likely to be dependent on coal for years to come. Committee President Sen. Ricardo Nunez, a Socialist, noted that Chile has only one power plant using renewable energy, and it produces just 9 MW of power. Other senators emphasized the need to invest more in renewable sources, citing the country's considerable solar, wind, and geo-thermal resources, and urged the creation of a political structure to encourage investment in the energy sector. Bianchi noted that a year ago he urged Energy Minister Tokman to decentralize Chile's energy system, encouraging each region to use its own natural advantages to produce its own energy. Senator Jaime Orpis of the conservative Democratic Independent Union (UDI) party said that, because renewable energy was still expensive, northern Chile should develop nuclear power plants. While finding new forms of energy is important, Nunez emphasized that there is ""no alternative to saving energy.""

5. Throughout the meeting and a subsequent lunch, the senators displayed a notable sense of urgency and a desire for Chile to take a leading role in meeting its energy needs. The senators eagerly engaged with Ambassador Simons in understanding U.S. energy policies, initiatives, and public attitudes, particularly as insights into Chile's energy options. Procurica noted that Chile doesn't want to be just an energy and technology consumer, it seeks to be an actor in shaping the choices available to it. Bianchi called for an increased Chilean focus on energy, noting that the country had advanced less than its neighbors in meeting its energy needs. The Ambassador invited the senators to visit the U.S. congressional energy committees and promised to send information regarding U.S. energy initiatives and G8 energy commitments.


6. Chile's legislature is well-informed, engaged, and eager for cooperation on energy issues. The senators offered a range of sound opinions and intelligent questions, and are eager to learn what they can from the American experience with energy policy. End Comment.


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