Sunday, October 14, 2007

Interview: Environmental Activists for Defensa Patagonia

BNamericas (Business News Americas) Interview of Annika Schüttler, María José Alcalde Environmental Activists for Defensa Patagonia.

Hydroelectricity is attracting the attention of environmental and indigenous rights NGOs all over South America. In Chile, the topic dominated headlines in years past with Endesa's Ralco dam, which drew fire from indigenous groups.

Now the Aysén hydro project in Chile's south is the hot topic. Proponents argue it is needed to expand Chile's generation matrix, which has suffered in recent years from gas cuts from Argentina. Opponents say the country is rushing into a project that will have dire consequences on one of the country's most pristine areas.

BNamericas interviewed environmental activists Annika Schüttler and María José Alcalde from Defensa Patagonia about their opposition to the project.BNamericas: Tell me about your campaign against Aysén.

Schüttler: Our group is called Defensa Patagonia, which is an extension of another group called Defensores del Espíritu de la Patagonia, which was created in Cochrane where they're planning to build the hydroelectric plants. So in an effort to continue the movement here in Santiago, we started up Defensa Patagonia.

We are organizing different cultural events to disseminate information. We've organized protests and have taken legal measures more through other organizations.

BNamericas: What is your perspective on the Aysén power project?

Schüttler: Aysén as a region presented a plan that was focused on sustainable development with clear economic development strategies. The energy sector was not part of this plan.

Alcalde: The main sector was tourism, which was supposed to drive economic development.
Schüttler: Agriculture, mining, these also were sectors that would drive development. This was all designed so different sectors could coexist. All of a sudden, the hydroelectric project is presented and all the other plans for the region unravel.

BNamericas: So are you against power development in Aysén or are you asking the companies to restructure their projects?

Schüttler: I'm against the project.

Alcalde: So am I, because Chile has a lot of energy potential in other areas that would cause less harm. These most harmful projects should be a last resort. But in this case, they're starting with the most harmful and leaving the less harmful projects, like renewables, on page two. What happens when this hydroelectric potential is all used up?

BNamericas: But what kind of generation do you support? Nuclear? Thermo?
Schüttler: We all have to ask ourselves, how are we going to sustain development? If we talk about hydroelectric plants, they all have a useful life. So we could dam up all the rivers in Chile and arrive at the end of their useful lives and run into the same problem we're at now. We'll be asking, now what, how do we change our power strategy?'

For now, I could offer you some solutions. Other solutions could be developing new dams on the Bio Bio river, which has at least 1,200MW of potential remaining.

Alcalde: In a sense, the river already is dead. In other words, it's better to continue developing this river than to damage one that is pristine.

Schüttler: President Bachelet said the same thing in her government plan. She was going to develop a national basin strategy. Now we're going to execute the most invasive project in Chile and we haven't decided which basins we will use and to what ends. Should we use the Baker basin for hydroelectricity or tourism for fly-fishing, etcetera?

Here is the full article.

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