Thursday, December 6, 2007

Senator Horvath proposes changes to controversial HidroAysen powerline project.

(Dec. 6, 2007) Sen. Antonio Horvath of the center-right National Renovation (RN) party has come up with a plan to reroute a 1,200-mile electricity transmission line planned for southern Chile. The proposal is Horvath’s attempt to smooth out one of the major sticking points surrounding the highly controversial HidroAysén hydroelectric project.

A joint venture between Spanish-Italian electricity giant Endesa and Chilean energy company Colbún, the HidroAysén project calls for five massive hydroelectric dams to be built in far southern Chile’s Region XI, an area also known as Aysén. The dams are slated for the region’s two most powerful rivers: the Baker and the Pascua. Together the five generating facilities would produce an estimated 2,750 MW of electricity – roughly equivalent to 20 percent of the country’s current overall generating capacity.

In order to transport that energy from Patagonia to energy-hungry central and northern Chile, Endesa-Colbún contracted Canadian-owned Transelec to construct a massive power line – the world’s longest – that could involve as many as 5,000 towers and is tentatively planned to cross several national parks and protected zones.

The dam project has attracted significant opposition from local residents and environmental groups who say the dams will be socially and ecologically devastating for the pristine region. The planned transmission line has been a particular lighting rod for criticism. Opponents insist it will be a major blight on the country’s landscape.

There are, however, alternatives, says Sen. Horvath. One possibility would be to redirect the transmission line in order to avoid national parks, reserves and other tourist destinations. In some places the power lines could even be run underwater, as in the case of certain fjords or other ecologically sensitive marine areas, says the RN senator.

“The idea would be to avoid populated areas, tourist attractions and protected areas. There are certain areas that make this a particularly difficult task, for cost reasons basically. And in those areas we’ve looked into the possibility – and even spoken to the companies – about using tunnels or underwater cables,” Horvath told the Santiago Times.

The redesign wouldn’t be cheap. Transelec already expects to spend some US$1.5 billion on the transmission line. Applying this type of redesign could add an additional US$500 million to the already hefty price tag, said Horvath, who has been working with engineers from Seiemens and the Berlin Technical University.

Still, the RN senator insists his proposal is a viable one.

“For many years I was in charge of road building, in particular the camino austral (southern route), and as such I know that there are many valleys in the south that could serve as a route for the cable. The benefit of those valleys is that currently there aren’t any roads there and they aren’t places that either environmentally sensitive or important tourist destinations. We could even take advantage of the situation to build public roads and give the areas a real economic push,” said Horvath.

Here is the full article.