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Bachelet Joins Other Presidential Candidates in Saying No to HidroAysén

Amanda Maxwell

Posted June 24, 2013 in Living Sustainably, Saving Wildlife and Wild Places

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Chile’s former president, and currently the leading presidential candidate, Michelle Bachelet took a strong stand against HidroAysén last night, saying “HidroAysén is not viable. It should not go on… I don’t like it.” In doing so, she made a smart political move, aligning herself with other key candidates and with the majority of Chileans who know that HidroAysén is simply a bad idea, and that Chile has better, more sustainable energy options.

Bachelet made this statement during last night’s debate among the political parties’ candidates who are vying to win the center-left coalition’s primary on June 30th. She is presently expected to win this ticket, and will then compete with the right-wing coalition’s candidate – also to be decided in their primary on June 30th – and with independent candidates who are running outside of the two major coalitions in the November presidential election.

How do all these candidates line up on energy issues in general and HidroAysén specifically? Vota Sin Represas has a great website with a more detailed profile of each one, but here is a short list of the major players’ positions, organized by their political coalition:

Political coalition*

Name

Position on HidroAysén

Center – Left

Michelle Bachelet

HidroAysén is not viable. It should not go on... I don't like it.

Center – Left

José Antonio Gómez

If I am president, in no way will I permit HidroAysén.”

Center – Left

Andrés Velasco

Ambiguous

Center – Left

Claudio Orrego

Ambiguous, but has said: “As it is today, the project is absolutely unviable.”  

Right

Andrés Allamand

HidroAysén is dead. It is not a viable project.” Also here.

Right

Pablo Longueira

Ambiguous, but has said: “The project has a big problem as it contributes to the concentration of energy in the country…”

Independent

Marco-Enriquez Ominami

HidroAysén is not necessary.”

Independent

Roxana Miranda

Against HidroAysén

Independent

Franco Parisi

Against HidroAysén

*Note: I use “Independent” here to mean that those candidates are not members of the two main coalitions. They do, however, have political parties, identified on the Vota Sin Represas website listed above.

HidroAysén is a joint venture in which two of Chile’s largest energy generation companies, Endesa Chile and Colbún, propose to build five mega-dams on two of Patagonia’s wildest rivers, the Baker and the Pascua. Despite myriad technical and scientific problems in the project’s environmental impact assessment, which I detail here, the project received its permits in May 2011, two years ago. Yet construction has yet to begin on the $10 billion project, held up by legal challenges and even by one of its two parent companies – Colbún – which recommended halting the project until stronger political and social consensus exists.

That consensus may never come. As the above table illustrates, supporting HidroAysén is not a popular bet for Chile’s presidential hopefuls. That may be because the large majority of Chileans are opposed to the project. In 2011, after HidroAysén received its environmental permit, the project’s disapproval rate at a national level spiked to 74 percent. A more recent poll found that 67 percent were against HidroAysén. Most recently, a poll of the people living in the Aysén region – where the project would be built – found that over 87 percent of citizens are against HidroAysén.

What Chile’s citizens and many of the presidential candidates understand is that Chile has a remarkable range of other options it can take advantage of to build a stable, independent and beneficial energy future. The country has world-class renewable energy resources that are already cost-competitive with fossil fuel and large hydro plants, and these sectors are growing quickly. The latest monthly report from the Center for Renewable Energy highlights that 10 projects (solar, mini-hydro, wind and geothermal) with a combined capacity of 912 MW of received approvals just in the month of May. There are 8,620 MW of renewables approved (but not constructed) and 4,227 MW of renewables projects in the environmental review process, far surpassing HidroAysén’s expected capacity of 2,750 MW.

Chile also has significant gains to be made in energy efficiency, particularly in the industrial and mining sectors, which are so energy-intensive. When you combine the potential that exists among renewables and efficiency with the country’s existing fleet of plans and the expected growth in natural gas imports, there is no need for HidroAysén.

By joining the other candidates in their frank assessments of the project, Bachelet has made a very important statement: she is siding with the majority of Chilean people who want a better energy future than HidroAysén – or other large destructive conventional energy plants – could offer.  

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Comments

Bernardo ReyesJun 24 2013 09:18 PM

This is a crucial period in Chile's energy history. Indeed, recent events show a myriad of ocal-based thermoelectrical plants approved during the last years of Bachelet's first presidential period. President Piñera did not do better and Chile's energy matrix turned even more coal-based. A large drought has reduced hydro potentail enhancing dependency on imported fossil fuels and yet, the enormous potential of Chile's energy resources keep on attracting investors who eagerly await for the right "legal framework" and the long announced promised 20-20 goals and incetive packages. Although current government has put off its own 20% NCRE goal to 2025, companies do not want to iss a chance to stake their claims to some of the solar, wind and geothermal fields. This is reflected on the large number of projects submitted for environmental approval as well as those already approved. What a contrast!!! Chile's Congress still debates the new legal changes and a fast-track approval process for transmission lines, giving more rights and opportunities to the very same companies that own Chile's dirty matrix and those wanting to slave the last of the wild rivers of Patagonia to Chile's declining mining sector.

You are right there Amanda. Chile's got all the potentail to be a regional leader on clean energy development, but the presidencial elections has yet to see the real contents of the debate. Meanwhile the Congress plans to ignore Chilean citizens' demands for a clean energy future, as they approve ill defined laws to faccilitate Hidroaysén project that no presidential candidate likes. What a Congress!!!

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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