Ongoing Suspension of HidroAysén Confirms Project Infeasibility

Gary Graham Hughes

The opposition to large dams in Patagonia has continued to grow
The opposition to large dams in Patagonia has continued to grow
HidroAysén, the hydroelectric mega-project proposed for Chile’s Patagonia, has requested and been granted another suspension in the review of the project’s environmental impact analysis (EIA).

The private joint venture of Italy’s Enel and Chile’s Colbún aspires to build 5 dams and a 2,000-kilometer-long transmission line in Chile’s wild and remote Patagonia region, yet the company has now officially requested to have until the end of October 2010 to finish preparing their responses to the more than one thousand comments made on their last addendum to the EIA for the dams. The latest request for suspension was presented 9 days before the company was due to submit materials again. As per a previous request for suspension made in January of this year, HidroAysén had until June 30 to submit materials. Now they have asked for Oct 29 as the due date for their next round of EIA materials. This will be the fourth suspension in the review process, which was formally initiated in August 2008. It is important to note that no EIA for the 2,000+ kilometers of transmission lines has yet been submitted.

Juan Pablo Orrego, of the Chilean organization Ecosistemas, had sharp words about the latest suspension. “It is impossible for HidroAysén to demonstrate that it is an environmentally viable project,” said Orrego in a press release yesterday. “The EIA for HidroAysén proves the project is completely infeasible,” continued Orrego, “if this project eventually ends up getting approval it will be because of a corrupt political operation.”

In the Aysén region, the news was taken as a good sign. “As we have been saying all along, HidroAysén is not going to be able to submit a few addendums in order to repair a bad project, and a worse EIA,” said Patricio Segura, one of the primary media coordinators for the Consejo de Defensa de la Patagonia. According to Segura, the poor EIA is not the only problem for HidroAysén. “The irregularities of the process are still totally intact,” he added, “and the company is going to have to defend itself in the courts and the justice system.”

The predictable request for yet another suspension in the review of the HidroAysén project has also been criticized by environmental organizations based outside of Chile. “This action underlines the inequality in the environmental impact analysis system (in Chile),” wrote Amanda Maxwell, coordinator of the Patagonia BioGems Project at the Wash DC office of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Continues Maxwell, “proponents of big projects get unlimited time for responding to comments, while the Chilean public does not get to participate at all.”

International Rivers continues to actively participate in activities of the Consejo de Defensa de la Patagonia, and we welcome the fighting spirit of our colleagues in their critique of the latest events in the Patagonia dam saga. Certainly, potential investors will continue to be frightened by the ongoing incapacity of the proponents of HidroAysén to prove that their proposal is environmentally feasible and the right path for Chile’s energy future. The latest suspension only confirms the knowledge that HidroAysén is a risky, poorly conceived, and unfeasible project, whose costs would far out weigh its benefits.

It has been more than two years now that we have been organizing to protect rivers in Southern Chile from misguided hydroelectric development. There is phenomenal momentum coming out of the independent initiatives and cooperative organizing of the thousands of Patagonia river defenders that are responding to the campaign. There is no doubt that we have a solid result to show for it: Patagonia’s rivers are still running free!

Nevertheless, if they shall remain free we must keep the momentum growing. Though HidroAysén may be asking for a suspension, they are just stalling for time. We will not slow down with our campaign plans until either the project proponents or the Chilean government under Sebastian Piñera pull the plug on HidroAysén, and Patagonia’s rivers receive permanent and sustainable protections.

Stay tuned for more Patagonia news and an upcoming Patagonia email action!

More information: 

Visit the International Rivers Patagonia Campaign page

Read The Beautiful and The Dammed, an article about the Patagonia dams controversy in the June 2010 issue of Outside Magazine

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