Cobre Panamá power station

From Global Energy Monitor


Cobre Panamá power station , also known as the PACO power plant, is a 306-megawatt (MW), two-unit coal-fired power complex in Punta Rincón, Coclé del Norte, Donoso District, Colón, Panama.


The map below shows the location of the plant near Punta Rincón.

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The 306 MW Cobre Panamá plant was built to provide energy for the Cobre Panamá mine, a US$7 billion open pit mine with its own ore processing center and port facility that is expected to produce copper, gold, molybdenum and silver over a useful life span of more than 40 years.[1]

The mine's potential impact on the surrounding communities and its location, in the heart of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, have prompted serious concerns among environmentalists and local farmers, who have organized grassroots protests against the mine.[2]

The mine's port facility was to be constructed on the Caribbean coast north of the mine by the Spanish company Sacyr Vallehermoso[3], with Skoda supplying two 160 MW turbines for the adjacent power plant. Other contractors involved with the project include the engineering firms Sargent & Lundy and CH2M Hill.[4]

As of January 2014, mine developer Minera Panamá and its parent organization First Quantum Minerals projected that the power station would be operational by the first quarter of 2017.[5] In November 2014, Minera Panamá's Director of Environment and Community Affairs Alberto Casas told La Estrella de Panamá that the project was already 10% complete, and that the company hoped to finish work on the power plant by the end of 2016.[6]

In a June 2015 interview with the Panamanian business news journal Capital Financiero, Cobre Panamá's John Eastwood reported that everything was in place for completion of the power plant by the second quarter of 2017.[7]

The new port facility at Punta Rincón, a key component of the project, was officially inaugurated in August 2015. At the opening ceremony, Jorge Carney, Minera Panamá's liaison with the Panamanian government, announced that the port would initially be used to unload construction materials for the new mine and power plant, and that a dock for unloading coal and loading copper concentrate would be constructed within 12 months.[8]

As of April 2016, the Cobre Panama project was 40% complete, with the $600 million, 300MW coal-fired power plant slated to begin generating electricity in mid-2017 and full mining operations scheduled to commence in 2018. Excess power generated by the plant will be sold to the Panamanian government to supply neighboring communities.[9]

As of March 2017, the first unit was scheduled to go online in late 2017, and the second unit in 2018. The overall mine project was at 46% completion. First Quantum plans to begin selling electricity immediately in order to generate capital for the overall project.[10]

The Cobre Panamá project made continued progress throughout 2017. Company officials estimated the mine project to be 50% complete as of May 2017[11][12] and 63% complete at the end of Q3, with the mine on track to open for business in late 2018[13] and make its first export shipment in January 2019.[14] As of July 2017, the first 150 MW unit of the coal-fired power plant was nearly complete and scheduled to go online by the end of the year, with the second 150 MW unit to follow suit in the first half of 2018.[15] In February 2018 First Quantum reported the overall mine project to be 70% complete.[16]

The plant's first unit was commissioned in August 2018[17], and the second unit was commissioned in February 2019.[18]

In April 2020 Panama's health ministry ordered the temporary closure of the Cobre Panamá mine following a coronavirus outbreak that resulted in over 100 Covid-19 infections and the death of three miners.[19] However, project owner First Quantum Minerals announced that the Cobre Panamá power station would continue operating throughout the health crisis to supply essential energy to Panama's electricity grid.[20] During the mine's closure, 325 mine workers assisted with power plant operations.[21] First Quantum received government approval to recommence normal mining operations in July 2020.[22]

Planned conversion from coal to natural gas or renewables

As of May 2021, the power station was part of talks for closure or transformation as part of the negotiations for the renewal of concession.[23]

In June 2021, Panamanian president Laurentino Cortizo announced that the country's existing coal plants, including Cobre Panamá, would be retired or converted to cleaner fuels by the end of 2023.[24] As of October 2021, Cobre Panamá was reportedly negotiating with the Panamanian government regarding possible conversion of the plant to run on natural gas.[24] In February 2022 Panama's Minister of Energy, Jorge Rivera, said he expected that plant owner First Quantum Minerals would submit an official conversion proposal by June 2022.[25]

First Quantum, in its 2021 annual report, confirmed that it had "committed to work with the Government of Panama to perform a study into the feasibility of alternative sources of power" - including renewable energy options - at the Cobre Panamá plant throughout 2022 and 2023. The company cited economic, environmental and reputational benefits as key motivators for phasing out coal at the plant, affirming that Cobre Panamá was responsible for nearly 2 Mt of CO2e emissions in 2020, stating that "a shift from reliance on coal power to renewable alternatives... should deliver benefits (including)... stable operating costs and limited additional capital expenditure," and noting that "the continued use of coal for the power provided in Panama could hinder the ability of the Company to take advantage of strategic opportunities or limit access to capital markets, as stakeholder expectations for decarbonisation increase."[26]

Legal Challenge to Law 9

In September 2018 the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) declared unconstitutional Law 9 of February 25, 1997 , which approved the contract between the State and Minera Petaquilla, SA . to extract gold and copper in the Coclé mountains. The court's ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed in 2009 by CAIM, the Center for Environmental Impact, which alleged that the adoption of Law 9 violated several articles of the Constitution of the Republic related to the protection of human rights and the conservation of the environment.[27] The government of Panama subsequently released a statement of support for the Cobre project, and stated that the Ministry of Commerce and Industry considered the concession contract for the mine to be still in effect.[28]

Project Details

  • Sponsor: Minera Panama, S.A.[22]
  • Parent company: First Quantum Minerals Ltd[22]
  • Location: Punta Rincón, Coclé del Norte, Donoso District, Colón, Panama
  • Coordinates: 9.005716, -80.689504 (exact)
  • Status: Operating
  • Gross Capacity:
  • Type: Subcritical[29]
  • Start Date:
  • Coal Type: Bituminous[29]
  • Coal Source: Colombia[29]
  • Source of financing:

Articles and resources


  1. "Cobre Panama Copper Mine, Donoso District, Panama". Mining Technology. Retrieved 2021-01-13.
  2. "Panama: Campesinos Try to Block Canadian Mining Goliaths ,", Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, June 14, 2012.
  3. "Minera Panamá encarga construcción de puerto a Sacyr Vallehermoso,", Telemetro , October 8, 2012.
  4. "Skoda Power wins turbine contract for new coal-fired power plant in Panama". NS Energy. October 10, 2012.
  5. "First Quantum Minerals Provides Update on Its Cobre Panama Copper Project and Funding Arrangements". First Quantum. January 28, 2014.
  6. "Panamá se apunta al ‘boom’ del mercado internacional de cobre," La Estrella de Panamá, November 27, 2014.
  7. "$2.000 millones se han invertido en Cobre Panamá," Capital Financiero, June 1, 2015.
  8. "Nuevo puerto de Punta Rincón, en Colón, empieza a funcionar," La Estrella de Panamá, August 26, 2015.
  9. "Construcción de la mina en Donoso alcanza 40%," La Estrella de Panamá, April 1, 2016.
  10. Mina de cobre venderá energía, La Prensa, 2 Mar. 2017.
  11. "Cobre Panama copper mine on target for phased-commissioning in 2018", International Mining, 22 May 2017.
  12. "Mina de cobre tiene 50% de avance", La Prensa, 26 Jun 2017.
  13. "Cobre Panamá alcanza 63% de avance y estaría operativo dentro de 12 meses". Mineria Pan-Americana. November 7, 2017.
  14. "Varela visita mina Cobre Panamá", La Estrella de Panamá, 14 Sep 2017.
  15. "Avanza una de las minas más ambiciosas de Centroamérica", Minería Pan-Americana, 3 Jul 2017.
  16. First Quantum lifts Cobre Panama capacity 15%; swings to FY17 loss, Creamer Media's Engineering News, Feb. 13, 2018
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 "Tomo II - Plan Indicativo de Generación 2019-2033 (p 254)". ETESA. June 2020.
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 "Tomo III - Plan de Expansión de Transmisión 2019-2033 (p 54)". ETESA. July 2020.
  19. "Mina de cobre generó 398 millones de dólares". La Prensa. May 4, 2020.
  20. "650 trabajadores salen de la mina de cobre, luego de ordenarse el cierre temporal del proyecto". La Prensa. April 14, 2020.
  21. "Minera pide al Minsa adelantar reapertura". La Prensa Panamá. June 6, 2020.
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 "First Quantum Announces Resumption of Normal Operations at Cobre Panama". First Quantum. July 7, 2020.
  23. "Avanzan las negociaciones para el cierre o reconversión definitiva de centrales a carbón en Panamá". Energía Estratégica. May 12, 2021.
  24. 24.0 24.1 "Deudas y cambio climático acorralan planta de carbón". Observatorio SAOT (Sociedad, Ambiente y Ordenamiento Territorial) (in español). October 4, 2021.
  25. "Panamá recibirá antes de junio el plan de conversión de la central eléctrica de First Quantum". Minería en Línea. February 9, 2022.
  26. "2021 Annual Report (pp 13, 24, 34)" (PDF). First Quantum Minerals. January 2022.
  27. Corte falla contra concesión minera nueve años tarde, La Prensa, Sep. 25, 2018
  28. First Quantum proceeds with Cobre Panama project despite Supreme Court ruling, CIM Magazine, Oct. 30, 2018
  29. 29.0 29.1 29.2 "Cobre Panama Power Station". CostaAbajo. Retrieved 2021-01-08.

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