Sunday, November 11, 2007

The HydroAysen Project - Damming the Pascua & Baker Rivers in Patagonia, Chile – Perspective, Background, Facts & Motivation

Translation: Saint Expeditious / Thanks for the favors granted! From the Mapuche Indian campaign against the Ralco and Pangue dams on the Rio Bio Bio. Saint Expeditious is former Chilean President, Richard Lagos. The logos are mostly foreign owned, multinational energy, timber and mining corporations upon which the economy of Chile is dependent.


When completed, the HydroAysen Project is expected to generate 2,355 megawatts of electricity, with a 2000 kilometer-long transmission line strung, north-to-south, across the heart of Patagonia, Chile. The devastation it will wreak across the entire region will be enormous. Presently, Patagonia, Chile is one of the last, truly unexploited wilderness regions in the world. With the rising price of fossil fuels, the looming crisis of global warming, and Chilean dependence on foreign energy, the Chilean government insists it needs the HydroAysen Project as a vital, clean renewable source of energy for the future of the country. Does this supposition hold-up?


To better understand the HydroAysen Project it will be beneficial to examine how the HydroAysen Project (at 2355 megawatts) compares to other energy producing ventures around the world.

Hydroelectric Projects Worldwide(1):

Three Gorges Dam, China - 18,200 megawatts

Itaipu, Brazil/Paraguay - 12,600 megawatts

Guri, Venezuela - 10,000 megawatts

Grand Coulee, USA - 6,494 megawatts

Sayano-Shushensk, Russia - 6,400 megawatts

Krasnoyarsk, Russia - 6,000 megawatts

Churchill Falls, Canada - 5,428 megawatts

La Grande, Canada - 5,328 megawatts

For all its hype about "saving Chile from foreign energy dependence", at completion, the HydroAysen Project, generating at 2,355 megawatts, will not even rank in the top ten energy producing hydroelectric power projects in the world. This begs the next question, how does HydroAysen stack-up against other energy producing schemes?

Some examples:


Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, USA - 3,810 megawatts (2)


Keystone Generating Station, USA - 1711 megawatts (3)


Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center, USA – 735 megawatts (4)


Sarulla Geothermal Power Project, Indonesia – 340 megawatts (5)


Victoria Solar Power Station, Australia – 154 megawatts (6)


Pelamis Wave Power Farm, Scotland – 3.0 megawatts (7)


Marine Current Tidal Project, Ireland – 1.2 megawatts (8)


Drawing from the data above, the HydroAysen Project, as planned, with five dams on the Rio Pascua & Rio Baker, will deliver as much electricity to Chile as one-and-a-half coal-fired power plants, two-thirds of a nuclear power plant or three large wind farms.

The HydroAysen Project “concept” is approximately the same as proposing to build one-and-a-half coal-fired power plants in the remotest region of Patagonia, Chile and then constructing a 2000 kilometer-long transmission line through one of the world’s last pristine wilderness areas.

Had the plan called for a coal-fired power plant to be built in the same region it would have been declared environmentally and economically absurd.

When considered alone, the HydroAysen Project is not coherent. Endesa S.A. and Colbun S.A. could find less expensive and less environmentally damaging energy projects in Chile to develop, a nation with a total nominal population of just over 16 million.

So what are the forces driving this project?

Carbon Credits: Hydroelectric projects in Chile benefit from the funding provided by the Cap-and-Trade Carbon Credit Scheme implemented in Europe as a part of the Kyoto Treaty. This scheme allows polluters in Europe to pay nominal fines for exceeding their allotted “carbon cap” instead of implementing more costly fixes which would actually go toward reducing worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. (9,10,11) The monies collected for excess emissions are then funneled to companies like Endesa S.A. to build hydroelectric plants in places like far-off Patagonia. Carbon Credits provide the insurance utilities need to undertake economically risky projects like HydroAysen. (12,13)

While the Cap-and-Trade scheme might seem plausible at first pass it does not bear close scrutiny. (14,10) For example, if Enel Sp.A, the parent company of Endesa S.A., were to exceed its carbon cap ceiling for its fossil fuel power plants in Europe(15,16) it could purchase carbon credits on the open market to offset its emissions. The purchaser and beneficiary of these funds could then be Endesa S.A. which has a carbon offsetting hydroelectric project going on in Patagonia, Chile or elsewhere. (17) A situation has now developed where companies avoid cleaning up their carbon emissions and instead funnel monies to their subsidiary operations in the developing world. (18,17)

Natural Resources: Patagonia, Chile is a roadless untracked wilderness with exceedingly forbidding terrain; Charles Darwin dubbed it “The Green Desert” when he visited in the early 1800s. Currently, Patagonia has very little infrastructure to support its own small communities, never mind mining, timber and other extractive industries. With the coming of hydroelectricity and the ensuing roads required to build the dams and transmission lines, the extraction industries will have unprecedented access to this pristine and unexplored region of the world. (19)

The Unholy Alliance – Mining & Hydroelectricity: As of October 2007, approximately 59% of Chile’s electricity comes from hydroelectric sources. (20) Of all the power generated in Chile 37% is consumed by the mining sector with just 17% going to residential and domestic consumption. (21) Contrary to the reports the average Chilean regularly reads about in the media, Chile does not have an “Energy Problem” it has a” Mining Problem”. (22) In the first three quarters of 2007 (Jan-Sept) the mining industry accounted for 50% of all the corporate profits that were earned in Chile. (23) The vast majority of these profits went to foreign international mining conglomerates, which own 70% of Chile’s copper production (24), like BPH Billiton (Australia) and Barrick Gold Corporation (Canada). Additionally, a majority percentage of Chile’s electricity utilities are foreign owned as well. The cry by Chile's Government for “foreign energy dependence”, is a straw-man, fed to an undiscerning public by the foreign owned extraction and energy industries upon which Chile "is dependent".


A situation has now developed that puts Patagonia, Chile clearly in the crosshairs of the hydroelectric and extraction industries. (25) With the advent of hydroelectricity in this remote region of the world, the mining and timber companies will be ensured the electricity they require to power their operations. This in turn will provide the profit incentive for Endesa S.A. and other concerns to construct more dams. (26) The end result will be a despoiled and poisoned landscape that the exploited regions of Northern Chile and Peru are fast becoming.


1] International Hydropower Association, UK
2] Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, USA
3] Keystone Generating Station, USA
4] Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center, USA
5] Sarulla Geothermal Power Project, Indonesia
Victoria Solar Power Station, Australia
Pelamis Wave Power Farm, Scotland
8] Marine Current Tidal Project, Ireland
Profiteering from Carbon Trading
10] "The Kyoto Protocol has proved totally ineffective on the practical side", says Italy's Enel / Endesa CEO
11] Bali's business bonanza.
Australia's Pacific Hydro finds a loophole: Climate change, Kyoto, and carbon trading
13] Kyoto deal to clear air for Australian investors, say experts - Pacific Hydro's manager says, Australia is "now open for business".
14] Time to ditch Kyoto - Mitigating European Pollution with Patagonia Dams
15] Lighting Up Europe - Are Enel, E.ON & Endesa serious about fighting global warming?
16] Green Power Pioneer, ENDESA granted permission to build two 430 MW Gas Turbine Plants in France

17] Enel, owner of Endesa, completes acquisition of 3 Conduit hydro plants in Mexico - all three yield European carbon reduction credits.
18] Endesa SA to build two coal and gas fired power plants in Chile - Is Endesa's Climate Initiative full of Hot Air?
Chile's 21st Century Gold Rush
Chile: Environmentalists Demand Changes as Crisis Looms
Environmental impacts of the Endesa El Porton Dam in the Puelo River Basin
22] "Chile is the best mining jurisdiction in the world... Canada is not a jurisdiction where I would like to develop a mine." says Centenario Copper CEO
Mining Giants Account For Fifty Percent Of All Corporate Profits in Chile
Ransacking Chile - Fabulous profits for the multi-nationals
25] The Looting of Patagonia Has Begun, Say Chile Dam Opponents
26] Xstrata & Transelec Negotiate Cuervo River Dam Project