Controversial Hydropower Project in Chile Enters Environmental Analysis Phase

The Chilean region of Aysen, destination of five hydropower stations. Photo.

(Picture: The Chilean Aysen region, where a company seeks to install five new hydroelectric power stations. Source: HidroAysen.) In the midst of protests by environmental groups but also in front of an energy crisis that demands new power sources for the country, Chile's biggest energy generation project took another step last week. The authorities of HidroAysen presented the environmental impact study for the five hydropower stations they plan to build in 2009, which would provide an additional annual generation of 18,430 GWH.

According to Noticias123, the supporters of the project say this is the response to Chile's energy issues, while the detractors claim this is a business that will bury large woods areas, will appropriate a natural resource, and will interfere in tourism. Among the projects' main critics is millionaire Douglas Tompkins, known owner of large portions of land in the Argentinean and Chilean Patagonia.

Find details of the project and more pics in the extended. Via La Nacion.The Project: HidroAysen, Chile's Massive Hydroelectric Generation Plan

HidroAysen is a project to build five hydroelectric power stations in the Aysen region of Chile (Patagonia), two of them in the basin of Baker river and the other three in the Pascua river.

The project will have an installed power of 2,750 MW and an annual average production of 18,439 GWH that will be connected to the Chilean central system, which provides power to 93% of the country's population. If approved, construction would begin in 2009 and would last until 2020.

The company responsible for the project is a society between Endesa Chile and Colbun. According to La Nacion newspaper, the investment for the project is estimated in 3200 million US dollars, 150 of them in mitigation of damages.

Environmental Impact Study for HidroAysen

Last week, the project's authorities presented a 10,000 pages and 12 million dollar environmental impact study to the Chilean authorities. La Nacion newspaper states that the study identifies 70 negative impacts and seven positive ones in the construction phase; and 29 negative impacts and five positive ones for the operation phase.

Environmental organizations have been demonstrating against the project since its announcement and continued to do so with this step. According to the mentioned newspaper, one of the most notorious critics of the stations is environmental activist and former businessman Douglas Tompkins, who owns lands in the place where some electric wiring would have to go through.

Douglas Tompkins and wife in Chile. Photo.

Douglas Tompkins and Wife, opposers to the HidroAysen project in Chile. (Source: La Nacion)

Another group opposing the project is Patagonia sin Represas (Patagonia without Dams), who say at their website: "This project seeks to flood 5,910 hectares, affecting conservation, tourism interests, and Aysen's Regional Development Strategy. In order to transport this energy, the company needs to install a power transmission line 2,300 kilometers long, which would cross over the country with 6,000 pylons that would demand the clearing of a 70-meters-broad strip."

Meanwhile, in an official communication by HidroAysen (PDF link, in Spanish), the company says the project considers the delimitation of flora and fauna conservation areas, a native species reforestation program and the re-location of 14 families that live in the area. "The project has been designed minimizing its effects on the environment and incorporating mitigation from the beginning," says the communicate.

Chile's Energy Context

The HidroAysen project moves forward in a time where Chile faces an energy crisis and the need to increase its generation to meet the growing demand, expected to increase 5% annually until 2030 (Electricity sector in Chile, Wikipedia).

The crisis came after the few rainfall and frost Chile went through in 2007 threatened the amount of water storage in the country's hydropower stations, which added up to the reduction of Argentine gas exports and the high petrol prices (Wikipedia, Chile energy crisis - in Spanish).


Sources for the story:
Controversial energy project in Chile, La Nacion (in Spanish).
Supporters and detractors of the HidroAysen project, Noticias123 (in Spanish).
Official communication by HidroAysen (PDF link, in Spanish).

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