World's No. 3 copper mine Collahuasi to reduce costs with solar power

Chile’s Doña Inés de Collahuasi mining company, owners of the world's No. 3 copper mine, announced Spain's Solarpack has won the contract to build a 25 MW solar energy park, which will supply nearly 13% of the mine's power needs during the day.

In a statement released Tuesday, the company said the solar complex will be Chile's largest and it main purpose will be cutting down the mine's energy costs once it comes on line in late 2013.

The deal with Solarpack gives the company preferential rights to buy power from another project in Chile's mineral-rich north region.

Much of Chile’s mining takes place in the Atacama Desert, one of the sunniest places on earth. But large mines consume a lot of energy, mostly in the form of electricity. In fact, it’s been estimated they eat up as much as 80 per cent of the energy in Chile, a country no stranger to mass power outages.

With Chile’s mining industry thriving, the demand for power is expected to continue to grow at a rate of at least 5% annually for the next several years.

In recent months, experts have warned that Chile, the top copper producer in the world, will not be able to keep mining for the red metal, gold and other minerals if the country doesn’t find a solution to their pressing energy needs.

Currently, the South American nation imports about 98% of all the fossil fuels it uses.  Shale gas production, which has seen a boon in recent years in the U.S. and Canada, could eventually relieve some of that burden.

Chile’s Ministry of Energy recognizes that the lack of information about shale gas reserves in the country, particularly in the northern area, are diverting investments and making the application process difficult.

However, Centre for Copper and Mining Studies (CESCO) representatives are pressing the government to speed up permit applications as, they say, the nation needs cheaper and more reliable power to mine the country's vast copper reserves, which comprise a third of the world's red metal.

Collahuasi is own by Anglo American and Xstrata, each with a 44% stake, together with a Japanese consortium led by Mitsui & Co Ltd.

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