October 2, 2019 / 6:21 PM / 13 days ago

AES Corp´s Chilean subsidiary faces charges linked to pollution

SANTIAGO, 2 oct (Reuters) - Chile´s environmental regulator has announced disciplinary proceedings against electricity firm AES Gener for violating operational agreements and environmental plans in a central area of the country that has suffered repeated pollution incidents.

The four charges relate to the operations of AES Gener, the Chilean arm of American AES Corp, at its 884MW power station, Ventanas Thermoelectric Complex, in the bay of Quintero, 110 kilometers (63 miles) northeast of Santiago.

The town and its surroundings are referred to by environmental groups and the media as one of the country´s “Sacrifice Zones” for successive pollution episodes that have caused public health emergencies.

One, in August last year, saw more than 300 people treated in hospital over four days for nausea, headaches and vomiting. There have been similar incidents since.

The SMA environmental regulator said two of the four charges against AES Gener were serious and could result in its operating licence being revoked, but stressed they did not relate to the public health emergency last year.

The charges were that between 2016 and 2018, AES Gener exceeded agreed gross generation, liquid waste discharge and sound pressure limits.

It is also accused of failing to keep to the terms of a previous plan of action agreed with the SMA to adjust its operations when high levels of sulphur dioxide were reported in the area between 2016 and June 2018.

The SMA said the latter charge and the charge relating to sound pressure emissions could bring penalties, including revocation of environmental permits and closure. The company has 10 days to represent a compliance plan or 15 days to challenge the charges.

“In these cases, the non-execution of appropriate measures in the event of a critical episode entails a risk to the population’s health, as well as exceeding the noise norm, given the frequency of exposure to high levels at night,” the SMA said.

Following the pollution incidents last year, Chile´s government had vowed to clamp down on environmental pollution with new laws and more stringent checks.

Chile´s “Sacrifice Zones” will however be a focus of environmental groups when the country hosts the forthcoming United Nations environmental summit, COP25, in December.

AES Gener said in a statement it believed it had already acted on the issues raised by the SMA, but it was studying the charges to decide whether to challenge them or issue a compliance plan.

“It is necessary to point out that the inspections that originate these charges were made from 2013 to the 1st semester of 2018... these facts have no relation to the poisoning events that occurred in August and September 2018,” it said.

Reporting by Fabian Cambero and Aislinn Laing; Editing by Bernadette Baum

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