May 27, 2011
Friends of the Earth Chile (FoE Chile) are campaigning against a hydroelectric project which threatens delicate ecosystems and endangered species.
The objective of the HydroAysén project is the construction and operation of five hydroelectric power plants; two of them on the Baker river and three of them on the Pascua river. FoE Chile believe that the recent approval of the project is the result of a series of irregularities and negligence during the environmental impact study.
"The process was inadequate from the beginning" Says Bernardo Zentilli, President of FoE Chile. "It is outrageous that the dams were submitted to an environmental study without the inclusion of the necessary overhead lines for energy transmission."
"Besides this, 10,000 citizens' objections were arbitrarily excluded from the participatory process provided by law, thanks to the early closing of the process due to pressure from the Minister of the Interior" concludes Bernardo.
The group are taking part in demonstrations against the project that have been attended by tens of thousands of people. They are calling on people outside the country to register their disapproval of the project at Chilean embassies.
According to FoE Chile, the environmental approval for the project was given without the company's response to the many observations made by the body in charge of the evaluation. Observations such as illegal flooding in the San Rafael Lagoon national park; or the dams capacity to support the simultaneous emptying of the glacier lakes that feed the rivers were ignored.
The flooding of the land endangers the Huemul, also know as the South Andean deer, an endangered species and a national symbol, of which only 2,500 remain.
Prior to the project's approval, the authorities had mocked the independence that the Commission for Environmental Impact Study should have to make a decision based on technical information. They even publicly expressed their agreement with carrying out the HydroAysén project, regardless of whether it complied with the environmental legislation in force.
The Minister of Environment has underestimated HydroAysén's environmental impact saying that it would 'barely' flood 0.05% of the Aysén Region. While President Piñera claims "we are condemning the country to a blackout if projects like this one are not built."
Nothing is being said about the 24,000 additional hectares that will be impacted by the 2,200 km of overhead power lines associated with the project.
As it was pointed out to the Minister of Environment, "Today it is not possible to make a difference between the government's discourse and the discourse of the company behind the project."
An unsustainable development
Given the greenhouse gas emissions produced during the construction of the dams and the deforestation incurred to make way for the overhead lines, HydroAysén cannot be considered a clean energy project. This, in addition to the fragmentation of water and land habitats, the irregularities in the approval of the project and the exclusion of citizens from the project, makes HydroAysén's the opposite of 'sustainable development'.
FoE Chile are urging the authorities to stop legitimising this project and instead promote the massive incorporation of renewable energies to the Chilean energy matrix, which have the potential of generating more electricity than HydroAysén.
Patagonia is a beautiful place with potential for social, cultural and tourist development unique in the planet. It hosts a large part of Chile's water reserves and should not be destroyed for the benefit of private interests.