Air Quality — 10 June 2014

hydroaysen project

graphic from the HydroAysen project showing project maps, click to enlarge

10 June 2014.  Santiago, Chile.

The government of President Michelle Bachelet declined approval for the 2,750 megawatt HydroAysén hydroelectric project.  To put that in perspective, the average coal-fired thermoelectric plant produces between 300-400 megawatts of electricity.

The Minister of the Environment made it clear: “The HidroAysén hydroelectric project is declared rejected.”

The project would have built 5 dams across two rivers in the Patagonia section of Chile.  Chile has one of the world’s highest costs for electricity and it was hoped that this plant would supply up to 20% of the country’s power when the project came online.  Supporters of the project cited is an an example of sustainable energy and said it would help cut the country’s dependence on coal-fired electric power production, which emits a lot of sulfur dioxide pollution and global-warming carbon dioxide.

The HydroAysén project would have required building transmission lines more than 2,300 kilometers to reach Santiago. The Spanish company that was to build the transmission line already pulled out last year, citing a lack of political will and a coherent energy plan by the government.

The project was opposed by many ordinary citizens and environmentalists, saying it would mar the extraordinary beauty in this region of cobalt blue rivers, salmon, trout, glaciers, and the snow covered Andes mountains and volcanoes.

The HydroAysén project ran television ads, when protests and controversy mounted, showing that the project would have covered no more than a postage stamp size in the vast Patagonia Region, in their words.

Opposition political figures and those in the former government said that the decision was as affront to business interests and was a political and not economic nor scientific one.  The Bachelet government said that, of course, politics was part of the decision, as it was opposed by many persons. But the minister of the environment said overall the plan was not well-thought.

In declining permission to build the project, the government cited unresolved human rights, environmental, and geological issues that were not adequately addressed in the plans submitted by the project.

The $8 billion project was to be built by the energy companies Endesa and Colbún.  The company’s can still appeal the decision and revise the plan but analysts say that would be a steep uphill battle.

The project had been given preliminary approval in 2011 by a regional environmental authority, which then allowed it to press forward with the environmental impact study which was rejected today.





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