There is an article that appeared online yesterday in The Wall Street Journal about how some of the world’s biggest mining companies are looking to spend around $24 billion to boost production in the Amazon and how the Brazilian government is creating the infrastructure necessary to make it happen:
Mining giants such as Vale and Anglo-American are increasing efforts to extract minerals from Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, a high-stakes foray into one of the world’s most remote and environmentally sensitive regions. All together, mining companies will spend some $24 billion between 2012 and 2016 to boost production of iron ore, bauxite and other metals found in the Amazon basin, according to Brazil’s mining association. The push by miners into the Amazon fits with Brazil’s broader strategy to tap the rainforest’s natural resources to drive economic growth. Brazil is building hydroelectric dams on Amazon rivers, improving roads between far-flung Amazon towns and connecting them to the national power grid.
Reading this story reminded me about what is currently taking place in the equally remote Atacama desert in Chile:
Spanning an area measuring 4,000 square kilometers, the Atacama desert in Chile hosts the entirety of the country’s mining industry. It is the venue of last year’s mining disaster, which saw miners remain trapped in desperation for weeks on end. It is where the mining industry swallows up 80 percent of Chile’s energy, and in a sector that continues to thrive energy consumption is expected to grow at a minimum of 5 percent each year. The Atacama boasts some of the highest levels of solar irradiation in the world. So much so, that solar energy can be produced at rates that can compete with the likes of gas, diesel and even coal. And it is the miners themselves who want to exploit this.
And according to this Bloomberg story from a few weeks ago the Chilean government is willing to lend a helping hand:
Chile will solicit bids next year to build South America’s largest solar farm as the government seeks to kick-start renewable energy investment in the Atacama desert. The government will offer a $20 million grant and a $400 million loan to build the solar farm in northern Chile, which will have more than 50 megawatts of capacity, Energy Minister Jorge Bunster said.
I realize Brazil’s government is probably still a little upset over the recent decision by Chile’s top court to block the construction of a competing coal power plant in the Atacama desert by a Brazilian company due to environmental concerns.
Nevertheless, Brazil’s government might be wise to follow in Chile’s footsteps when it comes to utilizing solar energy to help expand their mining sector while at the same time lowering the associated environmental costs that such an expansion entails.
Then again, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do it, and perhaps the wisest decision of all would be for the Brazilian government to forget about adding a few extra points to its GDP and simply let the Amazon be.