The Chilean government in the last year approved a project which would dam two different rivers, the Baker and Pascua. The massive plan has been called the HidroAysen dam. This project is facing major opposition as the dam would significantly harm a remote Patagonian region highly treasured by locals and tourists alike.
The project would entail building a total of five dams on the rivers in areas which are currently largely lacking even roads. The proposed $7 billion dam project would require the building of roads and at least 1,000 miles of power lines into the region. Unlike other major dam projects, such as one ongoing in Brazil and former ones in China, fewer residents will be displaced. Only three dozen individuals are expected to have to be moved. Habitat for an endangered species, the Southern Huemul deer, will be eliminated with the building of the dams as well. This species is considered a national symbol in the country, a fact which has caused additional controversy.
In addition to the infrastructure itself, the dams would also cause 15,000 acres of forests to be flooded. The dams are expected to significantly impact tourism as the proposed dams will nullify many waterfalls and whitewater rapids which are currently main attractions.
Despite all of the opposition, the government believes the dams are important for the future of the country due to energy needs. The dams would generate 2.75 gigawatts of energy, approximately a third of Chile‘s electricity needs. Chile relies largely upon hydropower and foreign fossil fuels for their current energy needs. The country is expected to have a growing demand for power in the near future, energy needs which the government wants to be met without foreign fuel.
Much of the opposition for the project point to the country’s potential for other forms of renewable energy aside from hydropower. The country has prime locations for solar, wind and geothermal energies. Currently the country only attains five percent of their electricity needs through renewables aside from hydropower. Recent polls in the country of Chile have found that 61 percent of the population disagrees with the building of the dams.
Two different corporations are expected to work on the project, including Colbun. However, Colbun recently announced that they will be putting a hold on the project. Colbun has indicated that the Chilean government has not fully supported the project, largely due to a lack of an energy strategy and policy. However, the Chilean government has indicated they do have a strategy in place in spite of what the company has indicated.
Colbun has stated that they are currently stepping away from the project but there is a possibility they would renew their participation if the government comes through. However, the Colbun announcement has the potential to cause the project to be taken off the table altogether, especially with continued opposition in the country. As for now the HidroAysen dam may be delayed for a number of years.