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CHILE
Patagonia dams spark protests
5/18/2011
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Government backs multi-billion-dollar dams along southern rivers, but critics argue that they are mistaken.

Despite massive protests across Chile, and opposition from environmentalists to some lawmakers, President Sebastian Piñera is defending his government´s approval of an environmental permit for a giant system of dams in a pristine corner of Patagonia.

Some 30,000 people marched in Santiago May 13, with other protests erupting in smaller southern cities and towns, after the government gave the green light to the HidroAysén project, a joint venture of the Spain´s Endesa and Chilean power company Colbun.

The at least US$3 billion project would cause irreversible environmental damage to the area and endanger the livelihoods of thousands of farmers whose land would be flooded, say critics

Piñera has argued that Chile needs these hydroelectric facilities to double the country´s electricity generation in a decade to satisfy the country´s growing demand, and the projects could generate around 2.75 gigawatts, about one-third of the current capacity.

But opponents to the project say it is not worth the damage. Hundreds of miles of roads would be cut through the Patagonian forest and flood 5,600 hectares (14,000 acres) of delicate ecosystems, including a portion of the San Rafael National Park. Add to the total cost hundreds of miles of power lines that the company is intending to install and the project carries a total price tag of around $7 billion by some estimates.

Opponents also argue that the government´s aggressive push for more power is at the urging of big industry – mainly mining, the motor of Chile´s economy – and not to satisfy the power demand for private use.

“The HidroAysén dams are a risky investment for Chile and would threaten a region of global significance," said Berklee Lowrey-Evans, Latin America Program Associate at International Rivers, an international environmental organizacion. “Numerous studies have shown that Chile can sustainably and safely meet its energy needs through increased investments in non-conventional renewable energy and energy efficiency, with less environmental, social and economic costs than HidroAysén.”

The Aysén Environmental Review Commission´s approval of the project with a vote of 11 in favor and one against has also sparked allegations of conflicts of interest of the board´s members.
—Latinamerica Press.


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