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Chile lifts coal imports, but limited by rising natural gas supplies

Santiago, Chile — Chile's coal imports jumped over 40% in February to over 1.3 million mt, a report from the National Energy Commission showed Monday.

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Chilean power generators have sharply increased imports of thermal coal to make up for limited hydroelectric supplies in the country's power market. But the fuel appears to be losing ground to natural gas.

Chile imported 1.363 million mt of thermal coal in February, the latest month for which data is available, up 42.2% from the month of last year and up almost threefold from the previous month of Januar, the report showed.

The increase in imports follows a rise in demand for coal from Chile's power industry to compensate for the drop in the availability of hydropower following the dry Southern Hemisphere summer.

Coal accounted for 37% of electricity sold on Chile's main SEN grid in March, up from 27% five months earlier, while hydropower fell from 47% to 22% over the same period.

However, compared to previous years, 2019 has seen gas-fired power plants take more market shares to coal's detriment, thanks to cheaper supplies from neighboring Argentina.

Gas represented 24% of Chile's electricity supply in March, up from 20% a year earlier, when coal had represented 39%.

Colombia remains Chile's principal coal suppler, shipping 930,000 mt to the country in February, followed by Australia (276,000 mt) and the US (156,000 mt).

Imports during the first two months of the year rose 12.6% to 1.924 million mt.

-- Tom Azzopardi, newsdesk@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Derek Sands, newsdesk@spglobal.com