Friday, October 19, 2007

Chile Dam Critics Accuse HidroAysén of Using Deceptive "Wordplay"

HidroAysen plans "run of the river" dam for Region XI's Baker River

Opponents of the so-called Aysén Project say HidroAysén – the entity behind the controversial hydroelectric venture – is using wordplay to deceive the Chilean public. HidroAysén, a company specially created for the project, is co-owned by Spanish energy giant Endesa (51 percent) and Chilean utility Colbún (49 percent).

In a recent presentation before the center-left think tank Chile 21, HidroAysén noted that the four hydro plants it plans to build in Region XI are, from an operational standpoint, “run of the river” rather than “typical dam” facilities. Run of the river plants tend, from an environmental standpoint, to be less destructive as they do not require large dams, reservoirs and extensive flooding.

The Aysén Project, however, looks to involve all of those things: dams, reservoirs and large-scale flooding. Describing them as run of the river facilities, in other words, is deliberately deceiving, say members of the Region XI-based Citizen Coalition for Aysén Life Reserve (CCARV).

“In order to gain sympathy with the Chilean public, (HidroAysén) is dressing up its project, supposedly harmonizing it with regional interests. But what’s clear is that it would involve a gigantic containing wall that would cut off the rivers with an artificial dam. It would stop the flow of the water and flood adjacent lands,” said CCARV member Peter Hartmann in a press release.

“These are dams, in other words, that wouldn’t be allowed in countries like Spain, which is (Endesa’s) country of origin,” he added.

The Aysén Project, if approved by the government, would be the largest hydroelectric venture in Chile’s history. Plans call for two large-scale dams on each of Region XI’s largest rivers: the Baker and the Pascua. Together the dams would generate some 2,400 MW of electricity.

The project is expected to cost some US$2.5 billion, a price tag that does not include an additional US$1.5 far a proposed 2,000-kilometer transmission line – the World’s longest – that would transport electricity from Aysén to Chile’s energy-hungry central and northern regions.

The Aysén Project it is absolutely vital for Chile’s continued economic success, say backers of the venture. The 2,400 MW it would generate, they say, are especially important given the country’s growing appetite for electricity (up approximately 6 percent annually), and its current vulnerability vis-à-vis ongoing shortages of Argentine natural gas, used here for electricity production.

“This is a zone with huge hydroelectric potential that has been studied for more than 40 years, going back to the time when Endesa Chile was state-owned,” HidroAysén explained in an e-mail sent to the Patagonia Times.

“Its development is closely linked to Chile’s medium and long-term energy needs. We’re using a renewable and competitive resource that’s clean and available domestically. (Also) the Baker and Pasqua Rivers are much more stable than (rivers) located in the central part of the county, which allows for energy production that is not as subject to the arbitrary nature of seasons and the climate,” the company added.

Peter Hartmann and other critics of the project couldn’t disagree more. Not only would the dams would be environmentally devastating for the pristine region, but they also represent just the tip of the iceberg. Once the infrastructure is in place, opponents warn, other large ventures (hydroelectricity projects, mining projects, etc.) are sure to follow.

Critics of the project also argue that Chilean policy makers – rather than blindly follow the lead of private, multi-national companies that look to reap huge profits from Chile’s natural resources – ought first to consider energy alternatives.

Here is the full article.