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Chile's Government Passes the Buck on HidroAysén, Dealing yet Another Blow to the Project

Amanda Maxwell

Posted January 31, 2014 in Saving Wildlife and Wild Places

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Chile’s current government officially handed HidroAysén’s political fate over to incoming president Bachelet’s administration yesterday, dealing yet another significant blow to the controversial mega-dams project and another clear victory to the majority of Chileans who oppose it. The Committee of Ministers, the highest administrative authority here in Chile, announced their highly-anticipated decision to not rule on appeals to the dams’ approval, but rather to ask for more studies from the company which will delay the ultimate decision for another year or so. As Bachelet will take office in just over a month and she has already repeatedly said the project is not viable and will not have her support, this delay is a strong sign that HidroAysén will not be a part of Chile’s energy future. Instead, the focus recently has been increasingly on the country’s booming renewables sector, which is already generating almost a quarter of the energy that HidroAysén would have.  

A bit of background:

In May 2011, after three years of review, HidroAysén’s five mega-dams received their environmental approval. Just weeks later, local citizens and civil society groups of the Aysén region in Chile's stunning Patagonia, where the $10 billion 2,750MW project would be built, filed 34 appeals containing over 1,000 observations with administrative authorities, citing reasons why the project should not be approved. The Committee of Ministers reviewed these observations for two and a half years – an unprecedented delay here – before calling a surprise meeting yesterday morning to make their announcement.

In the meantime, HidroAysén’s two parent companies, Colbún and Endesa Chile, have stopped actively pushing the project, and the political tide has turned against these dams.  

Details about the decision:

The Committee of Ministers announced that they have reviewed 32 of the appeals, but are requiring HidroAysén to conduct new studies on two issues: the hydrology of the two rivers on which the five dams would be built, and the impacts of the 5,000 workers who would migrate to Aysén to build the dams.

Yet the committee’s decision is insufficient. They have identified two areas where HidroAysén did not provide enough information, but there are many other issues identified in the observations where the necessary data is equally lacking. These include (but are not limited to) the impacts of the dams on: national parks such as Laguna San Rafael National Park; the endangered huemul, a native deer that is also the national symbol of Chile (akin to the Bald Eagle in the U.S.); native fish species in the two rivers; local tourism; and the local culture of Patagonia. HidroAysén also did not adequately address the area’s seismic risks or the potential impacts of climate change, or provide a relocation plan for potentially affected people.   

Baker1.jpg        The Baker River, one of the two rivers HidroAysén would dam in Patagonia

What the decision means:

Coincidentally, I was in Aysén yesterday for this major announcement, and the people who oppose HidroAysén – or any mega-dam in Patagonia, for that matter – all seem to agree: the decision is a triumph for the people of Aysén and Chileans across the country, the majority of who oppose this project. The time it will take to conduct these two studies so that the next Committee of Ministers can convene and offer a final ruling on the project will offer a window for two key changes.

First, that time is more than enough for the Piñera administration—which has dodged taking on the political costs of this unpopular project—to leave, and the Bachelet administration—which has bluntly come out against HidroAysén—to take over.

Second, it gives even more time to Chile’s sustainable renewable energy projects to continue their remarkable growth. The country’s solar, wind, geothermal and mini-hydro resources are world-class, and the market is responding. The two graphs below show the incredible advances the sector has made over the last two years:

graficos.jpg

                                                Source: CER.gob.cl

With a new law requiring that 20 percent of national energy generation comes from renewables by 2025, data that more renewables can bring economic and social benefits to the country, and additional significant potential for energy efficiency advances, it is clear that large, conventional dinosaur projects like HidroAysén simply have no role in Chile’s future. 

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Comments

Bernardo ReyesFeb 1 2014 12:32 PM

Era previsible que después de la enorme repercusión social y política de la aprobación de las represas en Mayo 2011, con la mayor manifestación ciudadana en contra de la destrucción del patrimonio nacional, Piñera se fuera con cuidado. Después de todo los políticos que no cuidan su legado pasan muy rápido a la página de la "historia gris". Bachelet, cuyo primer gobierno permitió toda suerte de "irregularidades" y otras tantas ilegalidades, para que los mediocres estudios de evaluación ambiental de Hidroaysén fuesen aprobados sin considerar los miles de observaciones de servicios públicos y de la ciudadanía. Boomerang Hidroaysén vuelve a su mesa y es ella quien tendrá que buscar los argumentos con los cuales "desaprobar" un proyecto que dice "No le gusta". Quizás sus cercanos asesores y la curia eléctrica que rodea su ministro de energía tiene planes para "reingeniería total" de este pésimo proyecto. Un costo que sin duda la Nueva Mayoría no estará dispuesta a asumir si quiere mantener algo de unidad. Definitivamente el nuevo aplazamiento no solo envarece y hace más lejano el proyecto Hidroaysén... es sobretodo una oportunidad para que el gobierno de Bachelet asuma "metas públicas un poco más osadas que el tímido "0:20 que prometió Piñera y que luego se transformó en el más débil 20:25 para las ERNC.
Desde Aysén emerge eso sí una fuerte demanda unitaria con Magallanes y palena... un Estatuto Especial para la patagonia que construya una economía sustentable basada en ecosistemas saludables y sistemas democráticos de toma de decisiones desde y con la ciudadanía. Después de la efectiva PROTESTA es tiempo de hace visible la PROPUESTA del futuro común y deseado por la cultura Patagónica que no desea calcar el modelo extractivista , consumista y alienante que se ha impuesto con su anti-estética en en el Norte y centro sur del país usurpando el futuro de nuestros hijos y nietos.

Gary HughesFeb 4 2014 11:20 PM

Great update Amanda, y muy buen comentario Bernardo. Felicitaciones a los dos, y a much@s más! los agradezco por tanto labor depués de tanto tiempo, todo dedicado a la protección de los ríos sureños!

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