“It’s hard to make you own way in a world of men only. Today I’m proud to be a woman on-site.”
"When I was a girl I lived in Lota and my grandparents lived in Coronel. I remember how when I went to visit them, they would tell me that Father Christmas worked at Bocamina and the chimneys were working because he was making so many presents." This is how Victoria Cárdenas remembers he first memories of the power plant that has played a key role in her life for over 20 years, becoming, as she puts it, her second home.
She currently works as a chemical technician at units 1 and 2. Her job entails preparing water for the entire generation cycle, dosing reagents, maintaining an optimum pH, and analyzing the raw materials that are received every day at the plant.
"It’s a fully on-site job. With both units operating, we never sit down," she remarks about her role, which is conducted by a team of four chemical technicians and one supervisor, working 12-hour shifts to provide coverage 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. She is the only woman on the team.
Victoria has been on the company’s payroll for 12 years, but her experience at the site totals two decades including jobs working as an external contractor at Bocamina. "I was a perpetual apprentice, perhaps the most historic one at the plant. I stayed close, I got to know everyone, and I dreamed of working here," remarks this self-described "prodigal daughter of Bocamina." Throughout these twists and turns, she came to realize how the plant was changing, not least because the Bocamina 2 unit did not yet exist when she started. "It was a huge open space, where after lunch we chemical specialists would come and gaze out over the area. There were trees, chickens and cows roaming around, and horses tied to posts," she remembers, thinking over the facility’s growth. But she is clear that the changes went much further.
“When I started it was different, there were no women and no young people. It was a man’s world. It was tough at the start, a real shock.”
"There was a lot of prestige about getting into Endesa, one of the area’s major companies. And even more so for a woman," she adds.
But her strong performance was enough to overcome generational and cultural divides. "We had to prepare ferrous sulfate, there was a tank where we had to put in two 50-kilo sacks. And they would say to me 'hey, don’t they say you people can do this?' And I managed to prepare it. Then they told me 'you’re really tough, little girl.'"
A world in progress
In 2007, with oil prices rising and a shortage of natural gas arriving from Argentina, Bocamina stood at the crossroads of growth to ensure the country’s ongoing electricity stability. The plant’s expansion began, and Bocamina 2 was built. Both installing the plant and operating it (starting in 2012) needed staff and labor, which Victoria saw breathing new life into Coronel.
"A lot of young people arrived, and I felt old. I was used to older people, but now I was the older person and there were new young people around," she laughs.
The new generations arrived alongside modernization and automation, transforming many processes at the plant and ushering in improvements to minimize its environmental impact. Here, Victoria highlights the gigantic domes that cover the coal yards, a structure unlike any other in the world, as well as the gas monitoring systems and filters, as she believes that not everyone understands the scale of work that has been done at Bocamina.
“A great deal of progress has been made, even surpassing the legal requirements. In 2019 we won the prize for the cleanest Enel plant worldwide.”
As part of this process of changes, Victoria has come to terms with the coming closure of Unit 1 on December 31, 2020, and the definitive closure of the plant on May 31, 2022, bringing the end of Enel’s coal-fired power operations in Chile.
"I’m a bit sad and nostalgic over all those years... I love Bocamina,” she admits, adding “I am proud of my role as a woman on-site."