(July 29, 2008) Residents in the Region X communities of Ralún and Cochamo – a sparsely populated rural area located some 60 kilometers directly east of Puerto Montt – are raising their voices against a massive transmission line Canadian-owned Transelec plans to run through their backyards.
This past Friday José Guevara and his wife Carolina Rösler presented a letter to President Michelle Bachelet blasting the electricity line, which they fear will ruin the landscape.
“In the public discussion of the hydroelectricity issue they don’t mention either the (potential environmental) damages or how this could affect the owners and residents of the lands that would be crossed by the power line,” the letter reads. “Nor is there any mention of the aesthetic damage the wires would cause to the scenery, on which this budding tourism area relies.”
The letter, signed by more than 200 of the couple’s Region X neighbors, is also critical of the controversial HidroAysen dam project, which is slated for the Baker and Pascua Rivers in Region XI. In fact, the two projects are so closely related that government authorities ought to treat them as one in the same, the missive argues.
“We ask that the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) for the dams include information about the serious environmental impacts caused by the power line. We completely reject the project as a whole,” the letter reads.
The US$3 billion HidroAysen project – a joint venture between Spanish-Italian electricity giant Endesa and Colbun, a Chilean company – calls for construction of five large-scale dams that would together add a whopping 2,750 MW of electricity to Chile’s central grid. In order to move that electricity to energy hungry central Chile, Endesa and Colbun will require a 2,300-kilometer power line, potentially the world’s longest, which Transelec has agreed to build. Together the two projects are expected to cost some US$5 billion. Neither HidroAysen nor Transelec have submitted their plans for approval by Chile’s National Environmental Commission (CONAMA).
That has not, according to Guevara, stopped subcontracted workers involved in preliminary studies from trespassing on people’s lands – including his own.
“Three people came to my house,” he told the Patagonia Times. “They came on my land without permission, carrying GPS (Global Position System) equipment. They also tried to intimidate me, saying they were from the Chilean government and that there wasn’t any point in trying to stop the government since it has the power to expropriate land.”
Guevara says he asked the men for identification. They originally refused but eventually admitted they were working for subcontractors employed by Transelec. The Region X resident later filed intimidation and trespassing charges with the police.
“Everyone says this has to do with the Chilean government and that we’re just screwed. But this isn’t about the Chilean government. This is a private Canadian company,” he said.
“This issue affects me directly,” added Guevara, who owns an adventure tourism agency. “First off they want to string this high tension line across my land. And second, they’re going to kill my business and hurt everyone else in Region X who’s connected to the tourism industry.”
HidroAysen is expected to submit an extensive, 11,000-page EIS as early as next week (PT, July 1). Transelec, whose majority owner is Toronto-based Brookfield Asset Management, will wait to do so until the middle of next year.
Backers of the projects insist they are national priorities and will provide the energy Chile needs to continue its economic development. Transelec and HidroAysen’s numerous critics say the dams and transmission line will ruin the Baker and Pascua Rivers and open up Chilean Patagonia to further industrialization. Indeed, Endesa and Colbun are by no means the only companies interested in tapping Aysen’s hydroelectric potential.
Led by an umbrella group called the Patagonia Defense Council, opponents say the projects are not only objectionable but also unnecessary. Rather than approve a venture that relies on outdated technology, they argue, the Chilean government ought to encourage investment in non-conventional renewable energy projects such as wind farms and solar facilities.
Benjamin Witte, Patagonia Times, July 29, 2008
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