photo credit: Pablo D Flores

A committee of ministers from Chile’s new centre-left government have ruled that a decision will be made on whether the controversial HidroAysen hydroelectric power project will go ahead or not within 60 days.

By Matthew Owens

The special ministerial committee overturned an earlier decision on HidroAysen made by previous President Sebastian Pinera, who is a major supporter of the megaproject. Environment Minister Pablo Badenier, who headed the group said that, “Within 60 days we will pronounce on the disputed matters.” 

HidroAysen has been controversial and generally unpopular among Chileans with one poll suggesting some 74% were against. However there are divisions, largely along  political lines, with a greater majority of those from the left of the political spectrum opposing the project than those from the right. The project proposes 5 dams in the Aysen Region, 2 on the Baker river and 3 on the river Pascua. The installations are thought to be able to provide as much as 2.5MW of power and outputting 18.43 GWh over the year, which is desperately needed in the country, importing as it does approximately 65% of its energy needs. Hydro power is an attractive option as while there is little oil and gas, there is great hydro potential in the south. Alternatives such as nuclear are not viable in the earthquake-prone country.

Nevertheless, conservationists and environmental groups have long opposed the creation of dams in Patagonia, arguing the dams pose great threat to the local ecosystem. Greenpeace Chile have made objections in the past claiming that, “to approve the project means to be deaf to public opinion, the legislative power, the rules, the obvious conflicts of interest that have undermined the transparency of the process, and especially to the many complaints of irregularities, faults and pressures that have reigned here.” The extent of protests and demonstrations have lead some to prohesy the death of HidroAysen.

Energy Minister Maximo Pacheco, however, criticised the discussion on the future of energy in Chile as focussing too much on the HidroAysen project. “My priority is to work on the proposal that within 100 days we will do as the President [Michelle Bachelet] has promised and deliver to the country a medium and long term energy strategy.”, explained the minister.

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