Etrion to build 8.8MW of Chilean PV

Etrion has inked a letter of intent to build an 8.8MW PV system for a mine owner in Chile, representing the Swiss-based developer’s first push outside Europe – and its first subsidy-free project.

The customer is Atacama Minerals, with the off-grid PV array slated to provide electricity to its Aguas Blancas iodine mine in northern Chile by spring 2014.

Etrion will build, own and operate the project with the intention of signing a long-term power purchase agreement with the miner by the end of March, once the financing is in place.

Etrion says the project will cost no more than $20m, some of which will come from non-recourse project finance, and the rest off its own balance sheet.

Etrion – based in Geneva and publicly listed in Canada and Sweden – owns some 60MW of ground-mounted, feed-in tariff-eligible PV capacity across 17 arrays in Italy. More than one-fifth of the company's shares are owned by the Lundins, a family of Swedish commodities entrepreneurs.

“This project validates our strategy to move beyond government subsidies into markets with high solar irradiation, and demonstrates that solar can compete with traditional sources of electricity today,” says chief executive Marco Northland.

Alongside Mexico and Brazil, Chile has emerged as a key growth market for solar energy in Latin America.

Etrion had previously announced its intention to target Chile based on its strong solar resource, high wholesale electricity prices and growing energy deficit.

The country has some 9GW of renewables project in the pipeline, although a number of challenges – politics chief among them – will likely prevent much of that from ever materializing.

Earlier this month First Solar bought the developer Solar Chile from a group backed by the Chilean government and mining group BHP Billiton, giving it access to some 1.5GW of early- to mid-stage PV projects, while Germany’s SAG Solarstrom recently unveiled a subsidy-free 2MW project.

Meanwhile, Abengoa recently completed its first concentrated solar power plant in South America – a 10MW system for a copper miner.