The Patagonian region of Chile has ample rainfall; its mountain rivers have the potential for hydroelectric development and tourism, goals which may conflict.
Controversy has arisen over the enviornmental impacts of a projected hydroelectric development in the Aisén Region of Patagonia. The project, projected to cost $4 billion, would be built by Endesa, a former state owned electric company now owned by Spanish investors , with four dams on the Baker River and two on the Pascua River. Opposing the project is a local advocacy group, Citizens’ Coalition for Aisén and the International Rivers Network. The proposed project, now in planning, is a private enterprise project, not a government project, and would have to pass a number of regulatory hurdles prior to its proposed completion in 2018. The major argument advanced for the project is Chile's lack of hydrocarbon sources of energy. The electricity produced would have to be transmitted 2000 kilometers (1000 miles) north to Chile's developed heartland at a cost of $1.5 billion. The Aisén Region with only 100,000 people would suffer the impacts produced by the project but would receive little benefit. Endesa holds rights to substantial non-consumptive water rights, but in 2012 it must begin paying royalties on unused water rights or give them up.
The project, the HidroAysén dam complex, was approved by the government in May, 2011, but a majority of the Chilean people oppose the project and have mobilized the strongest environmental opposition group seen to date in South America. If built the project will come online 2019-2025 and supply a substantial fraction of Chile's electricity demands. Chile lacks coal or gas resources and nuclear power is inappropriate due to seismic instability.
Water as a commodityEdit
Chile is the nation which has adopted treatment of water as a freely traded commodity in the most extreme form. This means that not only is water private property but that it may be freely transferred to the highest bidder. This can result in socially and environmentally beneficial uses being extinguished if they are outbid.
- New York Times article, "Debating the Course of Chile’s Rivers" by Larry Rohter, August 6, 2006
- Bussiness Chile article, "Hydroelectricity Debate in Aisén" By Patricia Garip July 2006
- "Patagonia's Wild Rivers Under Seige", PDF file, International Rivers Network website