Patagonia Times staff
The Patagonia Times
March 2, 2009
Energy company HidroAysén spent an estimated US$40 million in 2008 on its controversial Region XI hydroelectric dam project, a hefty amount considering the multi-billion plan hasn’t even been approved by government environment authorities.
The company dished out more than US$30 million on studies alone, the daily El Mercurio reported. HidroAysén – a joint entity created in 2006 by Italian-owned electricity giant Endesa and Colbún, a Chilean utility – spent an additional US$3.5 million on administrative expenses.
HidroAysén hopes to build five large-scale dams in Region XI, an area of Chilean Patagonia also known as Aysén. Slated for the region’s two largest rivers, the Baker and the Pascua, the dams are expected to add a whopping 2,750 MW of electricity to Chile’s strained energy grid.
HidroAysén plans to transport all of that electricity to power hungry central Chile via a 2,300-kilometer transmission line that would run through eight regions and, to the dismay of the project’s many environmental critics, involve clear cutting countless acres of wilderness area.
The dams themselves are expected to cost US$3 billion. That price tag does not include the US$2 billion Canadian-owned Transelec says it will need to build the lengthy power line.
Backers say the project would go a long way toward satisfying Chile’s growing appetite for electricity, said to increase by some 6 percent annually. The energy source, furthermore, is clean and efficient, HidroAysén insists. And, because the water is located right here in Chile, it is not – unlike imported oil and natural gas – subject to uncertain price and supply variations.
Critics say the dams will ruin the Baker and Pascua river basins. The transmission line, furthermore, will not only be a blight on the landscape, but also open up the Chilean Patagonia wilderness to further industrial encroachment, warn participants in an ongoing environmental campaign dubbed “Patagonia sin Represas” (Patagonia without Dams).
HidroAysén submitted its dam project for approval by environmental authorities last August, filing an 11,000-page Environmental Impact Study (EIS) with Aysén’s Regional Environmental Commission (PT, Aug. 14, 2008). Three months later the company withdrew the EIS, which various government agencies claimed to be erroneous and “insufficient” (PT, Nov. 19, 2008). HidroAysén plans to resubmit the project this coming August.
SOURCE: EL MERCURIO