Free the Patagonia

Today, I am going to give some space to the green voice inside me and talk to you about HidroAysén, a megaproject that aims to build five dams in Southern Chile. Picture this: a paradise of green forests, wild and free animals jumping around, and two large rivers completely flooded in order to produce 2,750 MW on average annually.  

What strikes me the most is the fact that the whole process of approving the hydroelectric power plants was quick and pretty noiseless, even if the impact this project would have is huge – it implies the flooding of six national parks, eleven national reserves, twenty-six conservation priority sites, sixteen wetland areas and thirty-two privately owned protected conservation areas. Yes, there are zillions of dollars involved and a duopoly at stake: Endesa, a majority-owned subsidiary of the Italian utility company Enel with a 51% and the national firm Colbun S.A, owning the other 49%. 

The good thing is that once this project was made public, many thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against it. So wide was the unrest that there were people rallying all around the world, from Paris to Sydney…but the company kept saying the dams are “environmentally friendly” and a “low impact solution” to the nation’s growing hunger for energy.

One may not be an environmentalist, but implementing this project would mean the destruction of a large area of the Chilean Patagonia. Of course, if we adopt a short-term perspective, maybe the first five years it wouldn’t matter the flooding be cause people that live there would be relocated and the company would even create new jobs. 

But what would happen in the long term? Most probably a devastating environmental damage will occur. 

There is much more that the simple approval of the dams at stake. The fact that President Piñera is closely related to the companies involved in this project (his brother-in-law, Eduardo Morel, was a Technology Advisor for Colbun SA until march) adds another layer to the series of irregularities detected since this project was made public. For instance, the 5,000 page environmental impact assessment provided by Hidroaysén poorly addressed the essential issues – such as the impacts on the local flora and fauna, and the demographic impacts on local communities. Also, there is the undeniable fact the Chile has other (economical) energy options such as solar radiation, geothermal, and wind – and the International Energy Agency recommended that the country foster them. And lastly, the project has chosen to ignore the volcanic gap at the dam sites, where an undiscovered volcano may be resting hidden between two ice fields.

Latest news, Colbun SA put the project on hold, citing lack of government backing. Thus, there are no dams in the horizon of the Chilean Patagonia at the moment.