Environmental activists celebrate a huge victory in Chile

Following eight years of head-to-head battle between energy developers and environmental advocates, Chile’s ministers of agriculture, energy, mining, and health unanimously decided to reject the…
Environmental activists celebrate a huge victory in Chile

Chile’s government rejected an $8 billion proposal to dam Patagonian rivers to meet the country’s growing energy demands, handing a victory to environmentalists who praised Tuesday’s ruling as a landmark moment. (APImages)

Following eight years of head-to-head battle between energy developers and environmental advocates, Chile’s ministers of agriculture, energy, mining, and health unanimously decided to reject the HidroAysen Dam Plan this week, marking a huge victory for environmentalists.

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The decision represents a momentous victory for environmental activists in Chile’s southern region who have vehemently opposed the establishment of the Aysen dams since its initial proposal in 2006.

The hydroelectric dam proposal was first put forth by the HidroAysen energy development firm—a joint venture comprised of both European and Chilean-based corporations—with the aims of building five dams on both the Baker and Pascua Rivers near the community of Aysen, in the mostly undeveloped southern Patagonia region of Chile.

The thinly populated and economically underdeveloped settlement is home to an unusually high annual precipitation rate and counts with an abundant natural water supply as several rivers carrying water from Andean glaciers to the Pacific Ocean pass directly through the area.

Consequently, the location of Aysen positioned it as prime real estate for the development of a hydroelectric energy source to help supply Chile’s ever-increasing energy demands.

As explained in a recent “Al Jazeera publication, “The project aimed at generating 2,750 megawatts of electricity, boosting Chile’s installed capacity of 17,500 megawatts.”

That’s because Chile currently stands as a net-importer of energy, unable to mitigate the effects of a declining domestic supply while at the same time attempting to satisfy the growing energy demands of a ravenous mining industry and an increasingly urban population.

The reduced supply has spurred a hike in prices to the detriment of the Chilean economy as a whole. As “Al Jazeera” goes on to explain, the energy situation has gotten so bad that there has been, “…a doubling in energy prices in recent years due to a lack of capital investment and growing competition in the sector.”

However, even with the cumbersome energy deficit at the forefront of government officials’ minds, the HidroAysen Dam proposition was met with firm opposition from the onset.

Leading up to Tuesday’s ministerial vote, residents of the Aysen region had voiced their concern that the dam’s construction would have irreparable effects on their livelihood by disrupting the local economy and destroying natural ecosystems.

Headed by environmental groups—including the Patagonia Defense Council, which is comprised of over 70 international organizations— that publicized the campaign on the national level, the local’s concerns rapidly garnered the national spotlight.

Further spurred on by countrywide support, the opponents of the proposal project cited several major concerns in terms of the environmental and economic consequences of the dam’s construction.

Beyond the obvious relocation of several families that live in the vicinity of the dams’ proposed locations, critics emphasized the detrimental effects which the dams would have on local ecosystems by flooding 15,000 acres of intact land and cutting down massive swaths of pristine forest.

Further, the dams would all but destroy whitewater rapids, waterfalls, and other touristic attractions which are one of region’s main sources of income.

Far from settling the issue, the ministers’ unanimous decision is likely the beginning of a long, drawn out, and strenuous legal battle between the Chilean government and the HidroAysen venture, which is expected to appeal the decision.

Regardless, the announcement was met with enthusiasm by critics in both Aysen and the rest of the country who had opposed the project for years. As for now, the Chilean government hopes to make up for the energy deficit by expanding port capacity so that more liquid gas can be imported, while also setting the ambitious goal of producing 20 percent of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2025.

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