Dam project spells disaster in Chile's Patagonia: critics

Hydro - May 10, 2011 SANTIAGO - Approval to build five dams in Chile's Patagonia region will flood nearly 6,000 hectares (15,000 acres) and do irreversible damage to one of the world's last virgin territories, environmentalists warned Tuesday.

A regional environmental panel approved the HidroAysen project on Monday, as thousands of protesters took to the streets to picket the massive construction effort.

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The two-billion-euro ($2.9 billion) project involves the construction of five hydroelectric power stations, two along the Baker River and three on the Pascua River, in an area some 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles south of Santiago).

Expected to take 50 years to build, the project would generate 2.75 gigawatts of electricity -- or 20 percent of current capacity -- to help meet Chile's energy needs, which are expected to increase 80 percent by 2025.

Environmentalists are preparing a legal battle to fight the project, scheduled to begin in 2014 in the wet and green mountainous region.

If the project goes ahead, Chile's southern Patagonia region would be "unavailable for use for 40 to 60 years, and then abandoned, leaving it an environmental disaster," Greenpeace's Chile director, Matias Asun, told AFP.

Flora and fauna studies underestimated the impact of the project at a microscopic level and on mammals like Chilean deer and protected native bird species, Asun charged.

The Pascua and Baker rivers are the largest in Chile, with crystal waters fed by thousand-year old glaciers.

The project also includes construction of more than 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) of high-tension transmission lines and pylons that will carry electricity across nine regions of the South American country.

The path of the transmission lines has not yet been set, but it will not be a straight line, explains HidroAysen's executive director, Daniel Fernandez, adding that parts of the line will be underwater to avoid national parks and scenic areas.

The project will require more than 5,000 workers who will be living in the remote area of Aysen for more than 10 years, effectively doubling the population of the region. possible to counteract the impact of this project on tourism and the area arounThe area attracts thousands of visitors a year.

"It will be virtually imd Cochrane, whose population will double to 4,000 inhabitants," said Green Party president Alejandro San Martin.

The project is a joint venture between the Spanish company Endesa -- controlled by the Italian firm Enel -- and the Chilean company Colbun, and is expected to generate 2.75 gigawatts of electricity, about 20 percent of Chile's current capacity. Chile's energy needs are expected to increase by 80 percent by 2025.

Its supporters say the project is vital for the future of Chile, whose economy is expected to grow at a 6 percent annual rate over the coming years, led by the mining sector and the boom in copper prices. Chile produces about a third of the world's supply of copper.

"We need cheap energy, and today, Chile is paying for the wrong decisions of the past -- double the cost of energy compared with the rest of Latin America," said Chilean cabinet minister Cristian Larroulet.

HidroAysen opponents note that the big mining companies are all in the north of the country, and say they don't understand why the south must "sacrifice" to feed demand in the mining sector. Other energy sources, like wind and solar, are also available, though they are more expensive, opponents say.

by Miguel Sanchez
(c) 2011 AFP

Source : AFP

Published on Global Energy World: May 10, 2011


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