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Chile’s People Reject Patagonia Dam Project

Patagonia Dam Project
On June 10, 2014, Chile’s government rejected the HidroAysén plan for the creation of five dams across the Baker and Pascua rivers.

For eight years, developers have struggled to complete the Patagonia Dam project. Even after obtaining permits and approval for construction in 2011, opposition from environmentalists at home and abroad continued to hinder development.

Chile’s Council of Ministers chose to overturn the permits for the $8 million project after accepting 35 complaints against it.

Had the dam been completed, approximately 5,900 hectares (14580 acres) would be flooded. The consequences of flooding would have resulted in the relocation of 36 families, the habitat loss of numerous flora and fauna and of the endangered Southern Huemul deer and damage to the local tourism industry. Additionally, to power the dams, over 2,000 meters of transmission lines would need to be laid down, possibly encroaching over protected areas, indigenous community lands and private property.

Another concern was the future implications of the dam. Critics worried over the likely possibility of other projects that would follow considering the scope of the dam.

A large factor that contributed to the government’s decision to reject the proposal was the legal inconsistencies. After evaluation, the permit process was said to contain irregularities and possible charges of misconduct. Many components of the environmental impact assessment were incorrect or failed to fully assess the impact of the dam.

However, the most important factor that led to the rejection of the plan was the civil opposition toward the dam, said Monti Aguirre of NGO International Rivers.

Now that the dam project has been rejected, the question of energy remains. The dam would have met one-third of Chile’s current energy needs. In addition, Chile will need to triple its current 18,000 mega-watt power generation within 15 years. A point of criticism brought up by environmentalists is that most of Chile’s energy costs are required for copper mines, not consumers.

To compensate for the energy the dam would have provided, Chile intends to add new terminals to receive liquid natural gas and invest in energy efficiency and renewable sources. They hope to cut the expected energy consumption of 2025 by 20 percent while also producing 20 percent of the country’s electricity with renewable sources by 2025.

These renewable sources would take advantage of the numerous geographical distinctions that can be found in Chile. Ranging from solar panels in the Atacama Desert to geothermal plants around the many active volcanoes, Chile has a number of possibilities to further expand its renewable energy output.

The rejection of the Patagonia Dam project was a victory for many Chileans. The government’s dismissal of the project demonstrates a conscious awareness and consideration toward its people and their concerns.

— William Ying

Sources: DW, National Geographic 1, National Geographic 2, The Guardian
Photo: peakwater.org