Santa María power station

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Santa María power station (Termoeléctrica Santa María) is an operating power station of at least 350-megawatts (MW) in Coronel, Biobio Region, Chile with multiple units, some of which are not currently operating.


Table 1: Project-level location details

Plant name Location Coordinates (WGS 84)
Santa María power station Coronel, Biobio Region, Chile -37.0421, -73.1308 (exact)

The map below shows the exact location of the power station.

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Unit-level coordinates (WGS 84):

  • Unit 1, Unit 2: -37.0421, -73.1308

Project Details

Table 2: Unit-level details

Unit name Status Fuel(s) Capacity (MW) Technology Start year Retired year
Unit 1 operating coal - bituminous 350 subcritical 2012 2040
Unit 2 cancelled coal - bituminous 402 subcritical

Table 3: Unit-level ownership and operator details

Unit name Owner
Unit 1 Colbun SA [100.0%]
Unit 2 Colbun SA [100.0%]


The first 350 MW unit was initially scheduled for completion in 2010. However, following a major earthquake in Chile, Colbún announced that the start-up date for the project would be pushed back.[1] The first unit of 350 MW went into operation in August 2012.[2]

As of July 2014, the second unit of Santa María power station remained on hold pending signs of clear support from the government. Plant operator Colbún said that it was awaiting the outcome of an appeals court case against the nearby Bocamina power plant, which it said would help clarify prevailing government attitudes to coal-fired power in the Bíobío region. If the Santa María II project goes ahead, its construction is expected to take approximately 40 months.[3]

In January 2015, the Chilean business journal Pulso reported that Colbún was still seeking community support for the plant's expansion and hoping to begin construction on the plant's second unit before the end of 2015.[4] An April 2015 article in Economía y Negocios quoted Colbún president Bernardo Larraín as saying that his company was engaged in a thorough analysis of the social, environmental and economic impacts of the proposed expansion, noting that the second unit already had the necessary permits but that there was no set date for construction to begin.[5]

As of late 2016, the Unit 2 expansion project remained "under development" but had not yet been approved by Colbún's board of directors, according to a November 2016 report from Fitch Ratings.[6] A February 2017 report stated that, out of Chile's four main electric generating companies — Endesa, AES, Engie and Colbún — the Santa María Unit 2 was the only remaining coal unit in development.[7]

In June 2017, citing unsustainable economic conditions and a lack of community support, the project's General Manager Thomas Keller announced that Colbún would cancel development of the second unit of the Santa María power station.[8][9][10]

In February 2023, a forest fire broke out near the plant which caused a temporary, precautionary halt to operations, but electricity grid customers were reportedly not affected. [11]

Environmental concerns and litigation

In December 2012, the national fishermen's alliance Confepach (Confederación de Pescadores Artesanales de Chile) filed a lawsuit against the plant in Concepción's appeals court, claiming that despite having passed successfully through Chile's Environmental Impact Assessment process, the plant was operating illegally, as it did not have the necessary permits to extract seawater used in cooling the plant.[12] In April 2013, Confepach and the local association of seaweed harvesters filed another environmental lawsuit against the plant, alleging that it was responsible for large numbers of dead fish and shellfish washed up on local beaches two weeks earlier, and that its permit only allowed for the intake of seawater, not marine organisms.[13][14]

In October 2013, the Chilean environmental agency Superintendencia del Medio Ambiente determined that the plant had violated provisions of its 2007 RCA (Resolución de Calificación Ambiental) environmental license, making it liable for up to US$5 million in fines, partial or total closure of the plant and possible revocation of its license. In its assessment, the agency cited problems with the plant's filtering system, stating that adequate measures had not been taken to address the potential biological consequences of sucking in massive amounts of seawater to cool the plant.[15] In the aftermath of this incident, Colbún announced plans to install new filters to address the problem.[16]

In February 2014, following yet another incident of dead marine life washed ashore near the plant, Senator Alejandro Navarro demanded further action from the courts and the government environmental agency to protect the plant's neighbors and local workers who make their livelihood from the sea.[17] In November 2014, the trade magazine Electricidad reported that new state-of-the-art filters, installed by Colbún at the end of 2013 at a cost of $5 million, were over 99% effective in preventing the intake of algae and small marine organisms, and 100% effective in blocking the intake of fish and larger species into the plant's cooling system.[18]

In January 2018, the Environmental Court of Valdivia partially upheld a claim made by 998 residents of Coronel against the Superintendency of Environment (SMA) and ordered it to sanction the Santa María plant for operating with a capacity and specifications different from those authorized in its Environmental Qualification Resolution (RCA).[19] Specifically, the Court upheld claims that the plant was operating at a higher capacity than authorized, 370 MW instead of 350 MW, and that the dimensions of a chimney differed from those in the RCA.[19]

In May 2023, the Chilean Third Environmental Court resolved a 2021 sanctioning procedure previously imposed against Colbún which had assigned the company a fine based on environmental noncompliance.[20] After accepting a claim filed by Colbún contesting the sanction, the environmental court ruled that ""the SMA must reclassify the value assigned to this circumstance and again determine a specific sanction with respect to the infringement committed by the owner."[20]

Planned Phase-out

In June 2019, Chilean president Sebastián Piñera released a plan drafted by the Chilean Ministry of Energy detailing the decommissioning schedule for all Chilean coal-fired plants. According to the plan, Santa María power station will cease operations no later than 2040, though the specific decommissioning date is yet to be determined. Plant owner Colbún agrees to consult with the government every five years to renew details of the plan.[21] Fitch Ratings confirms that Santa María's decommissioning date could be as late as 2040, noting that it is among the most efficient power plants in Chile's electric system.[22]

In May 2020, Chile's Minister of Energy Juan Carlos Jobet reported that he was consulting with plant owner Colbún about possible early closure of the Santa María power station, in light of the fact that the neighboring Bocamina power station has already agreed to cease operations in May 2022. Jobet noted that Santa María began operating in 2012, the same year as Bocamina unit 2, but that the plant's long-term contracts and commitments to investors could pose challenges to early decommissioning.[23]

By December 2023, Colbún had still not publicly committed to a retirement date for the power station.[24]


Since 2015, citizens groups in the city of Coronel have repeatedly filed complaints against the Santa María plant for its contamination of the environment and its failure to comply with regulations.[25] In April 2020, the Environmental Court of Valdivia ruled that Chile's environmental authority SMA had not imposed appropriate sanctions against the Santa María plant for infractions noted in more than 1000 citizen complaints.[26] In February 2021, the SMA acknowledged that the plant had violated the terms of its environmental license by installlng a taller smokestack (130 meters instead of 90 meters) and using larger generators than those originally approved, among other infractions.[27] Andrés Duran, a lawyer representing Coronel citizens groups, has described the SMA's response - fining plant owner Colbún 225 million pesos without requiring a new environmental evaluation - as a "slap in the face" to local residents and a "laughable" penalty that has effectively allowed the plant to operate illegally.[25]

In April 2021, the Chilean environmental group Chao Carbón publicly criticized plant owner Colbún for not committing to a firm date for closing its Chilean coal operations, noting that Colbún is only one of two companies (along with AES Gener) that has failed to do so.[28]

Articles and Resources


  1. "Chile's Colbún delays thermal plant due to quake", Reuters, April 23, 2010.
  2. "Santa María". Colbún S.A. Retrieved 2021-01-13.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  3. "Santa María II seguirá en compás de espera mientras Bocamina II sigue paralizada". El Mercurio. July 9, 2014.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  4. "Colbún da otro paso para reactivar Central Termoeléctrica Santa María II". Futuro Renovable. January 9, 2015.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  5. "Termoeléctrica Santa María II continúa en análisis y sin plazos", Economía y Negocios, April 23, 2015.
  6. "Fitch Affirms Colbun S.A.'s IDR at 'BBB'; Outlook Stable", Fitch Ratings press release, November 14, 2016.
  7. Carboneras en retirada: sólo un proyecto en construcción y ningún ingreso al SEA en 2016, Electricidad: La revista energética de Chile, 17 Feb. 2017.
  8. "Colbún decidió no ampliar termoeléctrica Santa María de Coronel",, June 23, 2017.
  9. "Colbún decide no completar su complejo termoeléctrico Santa María de Coronel",, June 23, 2017.
  10. "Colbún frena segunda etapa de termoeléctrica Santa María", El Mercurio, June 24, 2017.
  11. "El Coordinador Eléctrico Nacional sigue alerta, en contacto permanente con las empresas e instruyendo las medidas necesarias para resguardar la seguridad de suministro, se comunicó a este medio.", Trade News, Feb. 21, 2023, 2017.
  12. "Denuncian que termoeléctrica Santa María de Colbún funciona de manera ilegal en Coronel," website, December 17, 2012.
  13. "Piden a la justicia que paralice termoeléctrica de Colbún en Coronel," Nueva Mujer, April 11, 2013.
  14. "Algueras y pescadores de Coronel presentan recurso contra Colbún por varazones," website, April 11, 2013.
  15. "Autoridad formula cargos contra Colbún por fallas medioambientales". La Tercera. November 1, 2013.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  16. "Termoeléctrica Santa María instalará filtros para evitar la succión de especies marinas," El Dínamo, November 26, 2013.
  17. ""Termoeléctrica Bocamina Endesa la paralizamos, ahora vamos por Santa María de Colbún"". Navarro. February 2, 2014.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  18. "Colbún instala inéditos filtros de agua marina en Central Santa María I," Electricidad, November 18, 2014.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Tribunal Ambiental inició proceso sancionatorio a Central Santa María, Diario Concepcion, Jan. 24, 2018
  20. 20.0 20.1 "Tribunal Ambiental revoca sanción a Colbún por incumplimiento de RCA de la termoeléctrica Santa María," Electricidad, May 4, 2023.
  21. "Plan de Descarbonización y Retiro de Centrales Termoeléctricas a Carbón en Chile, Anuncio del gobierno de Sebastián Piñera" (PDF). Chile Sustentable. June 4, 2019.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  22. "Early Decommissioning of Coal Fired Generation in Chile Ratifies Renewable Commitment". Fitch Ratings. May 29, 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  23. "Ministro de Energía por Coronel: «Hemos pedido a Colbún que vea una salida anticipada para la central Santa María»". Fundación Terram. June 1, 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  24. Lleve su "Chile Verde," Fundación Terram, December 18, 2023
  25. 25.0 25.1 "Denunciarán a la Superintendencia de Medio Ambiente a Contraloría por permitir a Colbún funcionar fuera de su RCA en Coronel". Sustentable. December 15, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  26. "Tribunal Ambiental de Valdivia acoge reclamación contra la SMA por Termoeléctrica de Colbún en Coronel". OLCA (Observatorio Latinoamericano de Conflictos Ambientales). April 1, 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  27. "FORMULA CARGO QUE INDICA A COLBÚN S.A.. - RES. EX. Nº 1/ ROL D-061-2021". SMA (Superintendencia del Medio Ambiente) - Gobierno de Chile. February 17, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  28. "Tras anuncio de Engie de salida total del carbón para 2025, ambientalistas apuntan a Aes Gener y Colbún". El Mostrador. April 28, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)

Additional data

To access additional data, including an interactive map of coal-fired power stations, a downloadable dataset, and summary data, please visit the Global Coal Plant Tracker on the Global Energy Monitor website.