Chile’s $8 Billion Patagonian Dam Plan Rejected

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Wednesday, June 18th, 2014
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The Chilean government has decided to scupper an $8 billion plan to build a series of dams across rivers in the Patagonian region.

A ministerial commission of the Chilean government has announced the rejection of the US$8 billion HidroAysen plan, which envisioned the damming of two of the world’s fiercest waterways in order to sate the nation’s surging energy needs.

Chile’s ministers of agriculture, energy, mining, economy and health voted unanimously for the rejection of the proposal following a three-hour meeting, announcing that they had “decided to side with the complaints presented by the community.”

“As of now, the hydroelectric project has been rejected,” said environment minister Pablo Badenier to reporters.

The rejection comes despite Chile’s acute shortage of energy supplies, with electricity demand surging as a result of the growth of the country’s mining sector. Experts estimate that Chile must triple its current capacity of 18,000 megawatts within the next 15 years to meet growing demand – a parlous challenge given the country’s lack of domestic oil or natural gas deposits.

Despite the prevailing energy shortage, the general population has been largely opposed to the HidroAysen plan, which has triggered violent protests from environmental groups.

The plan would have entailed the construction of five dams on the Baker and Pascua Rivers in the southern Patagonian region of Aysen. Despite the current lack of infrastructure in the area, backers of the dams consider it ideal for hydropower purposes due to the abundance of rainfall and ferocity of the rivers.

Construction of the dams would have also had a major impact on the regional ecosystem, resulting in the flooding of 14,000 acres of land, clear-cutting through forests and the destruction of whitewater rapids and waterfalls which have proved a major draw for tourists.

While only a few dozen families would have needed to be relocated as a result of the dams, the construction project would have had a critical impact on the habitat for the endangered Southern Huemul deer – a national icon of which less than 1,000 are estimated to still exist.

The dams’ backers point out that it would have supplied 2,750 megawatts – equivalent to nearly a third of central Chile’s energy demand – over a 12-year period at cheaper prices. They also say it would have poured millions of dollars into infrastructure investment in the region, necessitating the construction of airports and seaports.

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