UPDATE 1-Chilean regulator charges AES power plant with environmental violations
(Adds AES comment)
SANTIAGO, Jan 26 (Reuters) - Chile's environmental regulator accused a major hydroelectric power facility operated by U.S.-based AES of violations, largely related to a failure to build required infrastructure but it also said the company skirted its ecological obligations.
Environment regulator SMA outlined four charges covering AES' $3.5 billion Alto Maipo project in a statement on Thursday, which also accused it of engaging in work in a protected paleontological area plus unlawful moving of fauna.
AES is analyzing the regulator's charges, it said in a statement released later on Thursday, adding it is committed to complying with its legal obligations to care for the environment and human health.
Alto Maipo, located southeast of the capital Santiago, features two power plants and an extensive network of tunnels that extend deep under the Andes Mountains. It has been mired in controversy dating back several years, including fierce opposition from local communities who complain the facilities harm their access to water.
An audit showed that the company's local unit AES Andes failed to build a "complementary" water outlet for irrigation for a canal set out in previously agreed to deal with local communities, SMA Superintendent Marie Claude Plumer said in the statement.
In its statement, AES Andes refuted that accusation, saying it did build the water infrastructure for the Manzano canal, which it described as "operational."
The violations could lead to a fine of around $18.5 million, the closure of the plants or the termination of its environmental permit.
AES Andes sells electricity to Chile, as well as Colombia and Argentina.
It has 10 working days to present a compliance plan and 15 working days to submit its response, according to the regulator. (Reporting by Fabián Andrés Cambero; Editing by David Gregorio and Aurora Ellis)