20
Jun
2011
0

Hydro-electric project in Patagonia gets green light

The pristine landscapes in northern Patagonia, Chile

***UPDATE BELOW***

I was saddened to read that a huge dam project got the go ahead from the Chilean Government recently. It involves a dam across the Baker River in northern Patagonia, an area of exquisite beauty and wilderness and one of the areas which first made me fall in love with Chile. The photo above is of the Lago General Carrera into which the Baker River flows.

What makes this a really very worrying development is not the dam in and of itself (I don’t know enough about the arguments to give an informed, objective opinion) but the following:

1) How do they get the electricity out of there? If they have to run power lines up from here then it  not only impacts the immediate environment of the Rio Baker area but also threatens to destroy a great swathe of Patagonia. With the best will in the world and all the environmental impact reports you care to produce, if the power company pushes infrastructure through Patagonia then in time others with fewer scruples and less governance will follow and do the real damage.

2) The ownership structure of the Chilean electricity generators seems to make efficient generation unattractive which cannot be good in the long term.

3) The real power need appears to derive from the mining operations up in the north of the country, an area with enormous potential for solar and geo-thermal generation. Whilst there are obviously issues with the technology behind these methods of generation, they are being overcome all the time. By the time the dam is finished on the Baker River and the power comes on line, it is highly likely that a suitable, low impact, solar solution will exist which could sit next door to the mining operations.

4) The parties benefitting and the manner of their relationships make the decision making process worryingly obscure, if it isn’t actually corrupt then it’s open to that interpretation.

***UPDATE 23 June***

I was delighted to see on the BBC website that the project has been delayed. Also in Spain’s El Pais newspaper the story is carried.

At least part of the reason for the suspension seems to be some of the unresolved issues around the cabling to join the grid. Let’s hope that these things are resolved properly.

Read the full article here

Find out about our holidays in Patagonia.

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