22 August 2023
BHP’s Spence operation is located near the town of Sierra Gorda in one of the driest deserts in the world, the Atacama Desert in Chile. This community is isolated, with the majority of its population facing difficulties in meeting their basic needs and accessing services. BHP works with the people of Sierra Gorda to select and support the implementation of sustainable community projects. The Solar Power Project is an example of one of these projects.
The Spence team aims to work transparently and collaboratively with the Sierra Gorda community to select projects that address community development concerns relating to the community and environment. BHP Spence hosts regular two-way dialogues, where residents are invited to suggest project ideas according to the needs of the territory.
The Solar Power Project was proposed by one of the Neighbourhood Councils, to benefit all local families by making the most of the hot and dry conditions in the desert. Through collaboration with the FJE Foundation, the local government, and a local company, the Solar Power Project saw all homes in Sierra Gorda equipped with solar panels, enabling families in the town to have a reliable and cheaper source for heated water. Approximately 1,300 people have benefitted by now being able to access heated water, as well as a reduction of up to 75 per cent in the gas purchased per household.
Community collaboration was also essential during the implementation of this project. Prioritisation criteria had to be developed, and locals wanted to see those with the greatest needs given first access. Taking into consideration the community’s desires, a prioritisation approach was developed that saw houses with people with disabilities and the elderly given first access to solar panels.
This project has contributed to community resilience through collaboration and building capacity to face the challenges of the future, as well as contributing directly to decarbonisation. Based on the results so far, the Sierra Gorda community is seeking to scale the project to also include home electricity generation. Once completed, BHP plans to work in partnership with the community and the Renewable Energy Center of the University of Antofagasta to measure the impact on carbon emissions reduction in the town.