Chile Scraps Huge Patagonia Dam Project After Years of Controversy

By Brian Clark Howard

 

Chile’s government canceled a controversial plan for five dams on two of Patagonia‘s wildest rivers Tuesday, after an eight-year battle between environmentalists and developers.

Chile’s Committee of Ministers overturned the environmental permits for the HidroAysén project, which would have put dams on the Baker and Pascua Rivers, flooding 5,900 hectares of land in order to generate hydroelectric power.

The committee had previously approved the permits in 2011, but has faced strong public opposition to the plan inside Chile and from the international environmental community. (See related blog post: “A Battle Over the Quest to Tap Patagonia’s Rivers for Energy.”)

“Patagonia’s rugged and varied wilderness is truly an environmental treasure,” Amanda Maxwell, Latin America project director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement.

“These giant dams would have put at risk the wilderness, traditional culture, and local tourism economy of this remarkable region.”

Patricio Rodrigo, executive secretary of the Patagonia Defense Council, a coalition of nearly 70 Chilean and international organizations, said in a statement: “The government’s definitive rejection of the HidroAysén project is not only the greatest triumph of the environmental movement in Chile, but marks a turning point, where an empowered public demands to be heard and to participate in the decisions that affect their environment and lives.”

The dams were planned for an installed capacity of 2,750 megawatts, which would have provided 15 to 20 percent of the country’s energy needs.

In recent years Chile has struggled to provide energy for its growing economy. The country has few fossil fuel resources, and imports from Argentina have recently slackened due to that country’s rising domestic needs. Imports from Bolivia have been hampered by a border dispute.

Replacement Power?

To replace the power from the canceled dam, Chile’s government says it will add terminals to receive liquid natural gas from abroad and will invest heavily in energy efficiency. The government set a target of cutting energy consumption by 20 percent from the level that it would otherwise reach by 2025.

3 COMMENTS

  1. To replace the power from the canceled dam, Chile’s government says it will add terminals to receive liquid natural gas from abroad

    This looks like a poor move! While hydroelectric dams do have a great environmental impact, some hydo-power would be prudent – particularly in some quite desolate regions.

    Chile also has large sunny desert areas where solar-thermal plants would make more sense than importing gas, – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_thermal_energy

    Local photovoltaic systems would be more sensible in remote and in accessible areas, with poor roads and lacking infrastructure.

    and will invest heavily in energy efficiency. The government set a target of cutting energy consumption by 20 percent from the level that it would otherwise reach by 2025.

    Energy efficiency from reducing waste and improving buildings is a good idea, but will be insufficient. They need some significant percentage of green energy generation.

  2. With the numerous volcanoes available in the Andes,

    http://richarddawkins.net/2014/05/nasa-airborne-research-focuses-on-andean-volcanoes/

    Chile should also be able to make use of geothermal energy.

    This is a list of ca. 137 volcanoes in Chile. According with archivonacionaldevolcanes.cl[1] there are ca. 500 volcanoes, with 123 active – volcanoes that have erupted at least once in the Holocene. The volcanodb.com lists 109[2] and the Global Volcanism Program lists 105 volcanoes in Chile. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_volcanoes_in_Chile

  3. I hate to say this but sometimes, some environmentalist groups work in the wrong direction and their efforts end up creating a situation worse for the environment if they get their way. I live in the province of Quebec in Canada and most (if not all) of the power here comes from hydro dams in James Bay.

    Now I completely agree that the flooding caused by a dam does destroy animal habitat and upset the eco-system BUT…. Power has got to come from somewhere. This is the perfect solution fallacy. Like it or not, there are 2 important advantages about hydro power:

    No greenhouse gas emissions
    Renewable source of energy

    It certainly beats coal or gas anytime and even nuclear. Of course solar, wind and tidal energy are ideal sources but they are not practical in all geographical locations. Not building those dams will result in the end to resorting to fossil fuel burning and pouring yet more tons of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

    If your house is on fire, do you think it’s wise to worry about what the damage that the fireman’s axe will do to the doors and walls of your property?

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