Chileans protest government approval of five Patagonia dams
Dam projects are drawing increased criticism in South America, which boasts three of the world's four biggest hydroelectric dam complexes. Chile is pushing forward with a $7 billion dam project.
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HidroAysen, which has worked for six years to win environmental approval, was pleased with today's vote, Executive Vice President Daniel Fernandez said on CNN-Chile. The company won't break ground on the dams until it has approval for the transmission line, he said. Construction was slated to start in 2008, according to a timeline that remains on the project website.
The project has been repeatedly delayed as activists from around the world demanded protection for the rivers. The Baker River has the biggest flow of any in Chile. The umbrella group Patagonia Without Dams organizes supporters from the US, Spain, Colombia, and Italy, in addition to various regions of Chile.
"We've delayed it for years," says Peter Hartmann, coordinator of Aysen Reserva de Vida, a regional environmental group, in a phone interview. "We've improved the project a little but we still don't want it."
The making of a national energy policy
A number of international groups and figures – including Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. – have come to the support of environmental activists protesting against dam projects in Chile and the region. Brazil last week broke off relations with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights after the body opposed construction of the $17 billion Belo Monte dam in the Amazon.
Chile expects electricity demand to double by 2025 on growing residential demand and increased production of copper. The government is analyzing dozens of proposals for hydro, coal, and renewable-energy projects. Earlier this year, it approved South America's biggest coal-fired power plant, a $5 billion project to be built on the coast north of Santiago.
However, the demonstrations yesterday showed that the public has a limited appetite for large energy projects. Environmental groups, politicians, and editorial writers have all called recently for a debate over national energy policy.
"The state has taken a passive role" in defining the country's mix of energy sources, Samuel Leiva, campaign coordinator at Greenpeace Chile, says in an interview. "As long as there is no energy policy, we'll keep having the same fight."
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