Chile Government Endorses the HidroAysen Project

Chile Government Endorses the HidroAysen Project

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February 20, 2008

Late last week, the highly contested HidroAysen dam project received a major endorsement by a member of Michelle Bachelet’s Chilean Government.

According to the Santiago Times

[on Thursday] Energy Minister Marcelo Tokman joined Interior Minister Edmundo Perez-Yoma to announce a series of measures aimed at alleviating Chile’s current energy crisis… while the announcements themselves came as no surprise, Perez-Yoma’s response when questioned about the HidroAysen project certainly did. “Do you support pushing forward with the Aysen dams?” a reporter asked him. “Yes, I’m for it… Of course I am. I think so. With all due respect to the environmental issue,” the interior minister answered.

Leaving little room for interpretation, Perez-Yoma on Friday reiterated his support for the project. “What we have is water and we need to take advantage of it… We ought, with as much energy possible, to push forward with construction of the HidroAysen reservoir system,” he said.

That reservoir system consists of five dams–two on the Baker River and three on the Pascua. Both of these rivers are “social and ecological life-lines for Chile’s Aysen region that is part of the broader area known as Patagonia–a symbol to the world of the kind of natural, unspoiled beauty that should be kept wild for future generations.”

Proponents the HidroAysen project insist that it “would go a long way toward meeting Chile’s growing appetite for electricity, which is said to be increasing by more than 6 percent annually. Also, say proponents, the Baker and Pascua Rivers represent a clean, renewable and 100 percent Chilean source of energy that unlike natural gas and petroleum – which Chile imports from abroad – are not subject to international price and supply constraints.” (NB did you catch the fallacy there? Better than bad doesn’t mean good.)

Upon closer inspection of the project however, the benefits seem to be quite unremarkable. Patagonia Under Siege explains that “the HydroAysen Project “concept” is approximately the same as proposing to build one-and-a-half coal-fired power plants in the remotest region of Patagonia, Chile and then constructing a 2000 kilometer-long transmission line through one of the world’s last pristine wilderness areas.”

Chile could easily develop less expensive projects that would yield far more energy than HydroAysen. Juan Pablo Orrego of the Santiago-based NGO Ecosistemas provides one example during a recent press conference: “Chile is a country that’s exceptionally rich in terms of renewable energy sources. Exceptionally rich. We could have solar energy in the north, wind energy throughout the entire country, geothermic energy from top to bottom, and tidal generators. But so far in Chile nothing’s been done with all these renewable energy sources. We’ve also done nothing in terms of efficiency.”

With this recent endorsement, it looks as if the government is not only willing to avoid this convenient, cost-effective, and sustainable alternative—and in so doing, threaten the region’s indigenous population as well as the environment which several endangered species need to survive—but according to Miriam Chible, president of the Private Corporation for the Development of Aysen (CODESA), it also shows their blatant willingness to ignore their own law:

“I feel disillusioned with this government, which claims to represent the citizens,” [said Chible,] By commenting on a project that hasn’t even entered into the environmental assessment process, the interior minister is essentially bypassing the laws, she explained.

“I’m a business woman, but regardless of my concerns and needs, I must follow the laws. But with his recent statements, Perez-Yoma is suggesting that depending on our particular visions, we shouldn’t have to follow the law… It’s pathetic to hear something like that in a country that claims to be legally responsible and respectful…”

For more news and background, please visit Patagonia Under Seige.

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