Chile's government has approved plans by energy company Endesa Chile to build a coal-fired thermal power plant in the southern part of the copper-rich Atacama Desert, a project criticized by environmentalists.

The plant, known as Punta Alcalde, will require $1.4 billion in investment, have an installed capacity of 740 MW and feature a mechanized pier to unload coal and five sewage treatment plants.

The government's Sustainability Cabinet - made up of the heads of 10 ministries - on Monday gave the green light for the project, which had been blocked by a regional environmental commission in June on grounds it would pollute northern Chile's Huasco Valley.

In a statement issued Monday, Endesa Chile - a unit of Santiago-based energy group Enersis, controlled by Spanish energy company Endesa - said it will be the "first electrical company in Latin America to use domes to cover the two fields that will be used for the stockpiling of coal in Punta Alcalde."

A system of sleeve filters also will be employed to reduce emissions, according to the company, which said the project meets the "highest standards in technology, efficiency and environmental commitment."

A group of demonstrators protested the project Monday outside the Economy Ministry in Santiago and said they will continue legal efforts to prevent the plant from being built.

Punta Alcalde is to be built at a spot 660 kilometers (410 miles) north of Santiago and between 30-60 kilometers (18-65 miles) from protected areas such as the Llanos de Challe National Park and the Humboldt Penguin National Reserve. EFE