To President Bachelet: Now is the Time to Save Patagonia

Emily Jovais

“Now is the time, now at last is the time. We have the people behind us; we have the majorities in parliament and in the regional counsels. The political, social, and economic conditions are right. We have the willpower and we are united. Today in Chile a clear majority of people want the changes we are proposing. It’s time to get to work.” –Michelle Bachelet after winning 62% of the votes for the Presidency

Michelle Bachelet will take office once again in March 2014
Michelle Bachelet will take office once again in March 2014

Indeed, it’s time to get to work.

Chileans elected their new president on December 15, and the winner – former President Michelle Bachelet – will take office in March 2014. Bachelet won with about 62% of the votes, the highest percentage for any presidential candidate since the country returned to democratic elections in 1989. After years of public demonstrations, one thing is certain – profound changes are on the horizon. Education reform, tax reform and constitutional reform are all top priorities for the returning President. Among these priorities is the need to solve Chile’s energy crisis and strengthen its existing electric grid.

A key topic of election season was the controversial 2,750 MW hydropower project, HidroAysén, which became a ballot box issue for many voters. Campaigns including Votas Sin Represas and Patagonia Sin Represas were enormously successful in exposing the candidates’ views on the project and encouraging Chileans to make their voices heard through social media and public demonstrations. The campaign was so successful that six out of nine presidential candidates signed a declaration promising to stop HidroAysén if elected. The people have spoken and it’s clear that included in their demands for widespread change is an energy plan that doesn’t include shortsighted and destructive projects such as HidroAysén. This year, 87% of the residents of Aysén said they are against the project and over 67% of the Chilean public is still opposed to HidroAysén – a higher number than voted for Bachelet.

Bachelet is correct – the political, social and economic conditions are right – it’s time to get to work. Now is the time that Chile can choose to meet its growing energy demand by prioritizing cleaner and more sustainable options like energy efficiency, wind, solar and geothermal energy rather than continuing to rely on fossil fuels and big hydro. Chile has a bounty of sustainable energy options that are less destructive and more closely aligned with the country’s energy demand than HidroAysén. The country has the potential to be a regional and global leader in clean energy development if it prioritizes these technologies over the massive conventional power plants of the last century. The recent boom of non-conventional renewable energy sources and the new national renewable portfolio standard are evidence of positive changes to come.

Solar plant in Chile considered one of the most efficient in the world
Solar plant in Chile considered one of the most efficient in the world
Photo courtesy of James Q Martin

During her campaign, Bachelet repeatedly stated that she’s against HidroAysén and doesn’t think it’s a viable project. She said in a televised debate that the project “is not viable, and I therefore think it should not move forward.” On December 4, she reiterated, “HidroAysén is unviable and will not have our support.” I and my colleagues in the Patagonia Defense Council applaud this recognition that the project should not move forward. However, further reforms are necessary to ensure that HidroAysén is put to rest for good and to protect all of Patagonia from the threats of large dams. 

To President Bachelet, we ask that you stand by your words – stop HidroAysén, protect Patagonia, and help Chile succeed on its the path towards a sustainable energy future. Now is the time. 

Stay tuned for ways you can get involved in holding President Bachelet to her word.

Friday, December 20, 2013