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NEWS: Another major dam with mining ties approved in Chile

Agence France Presse reports, “An environmental review commission Tuesday approved construction of another hydroelectric project in Chile’s remote and pristine Patagonia region, an officials said. The Rio Cuervo project, developed by a joint venture of Australia’s Origin Energy and Xstrata Copper, is part of a larger plan to build three dams with a total capacity of 1000-MW in the area around Aysen. …Hydroaysen, which wants to build another five hydroelectric dams in the Aysen region, is already in the final stages of the approval process.”

A Natural Resources Defense Council blog this evening notes, “The owner of the project is Energía Austral, the Chilean subsidiary of the Swiss mining company Xstrata Copper. In April, Xstrata sold 51 percent of its stake in Energía Austral to the Australian energy company Origin Energy, Ltd., and still maintains the other 40 percent.”

The Council of Canadians
On March 8, the Council of Canadians released a report entitled Chilean Patagonia in the Balance: Dams, Mines and the Canadian Connection by Alex Latta and Kari Williams. The report exposes the involvement of the British Columbia Investment Management Corporation, the Canada Pension Plan, and the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, as well as Canadian companies Barrick Gold, Goldcorp, and Kinross in highly controversial projects in Chile. The report highlights:

1) The rising demand for more energy is driven by Chile’s rapidly expanding mining industry, in which Canadian companies are the single largest source of foreign investment. Canadian mining companies, such as Barrick Gold, Goldcorp, and Kinross, are aggressively moving into Latin America.

2) Transelec, the only transmission company currently operating in Chile that is capable of building the project’s link to the market — likely to require an 80-metre wide, 2,300-kilometre-long clear-cut corridor through 14 national parks, nature preserves and conservation areas — is owned by a Canadian consortium led by Brookfield Asset Management, with partnership from the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and the British Columbia Investment Management Corporation, both public sector investors.

3) Major investments in the Chilean mining industry fuelling demand for the Patagonia project are supported by loans and loan guarantees from Export Development Canada, Canada’s export credit agency.

The report can be read here.

A GlobalPost news report adds, “79 percent of the population opposes HidroAysen, according to one poll. Critics blame that on (Chilean president Sebastian) Piñera, whose approval ratings recently dipped to 23 percent. In May 2011, hundreds of protesters clashed with water-cannon-blasting police officers after government officials began moves that would allow construction of the dams.” It is believed that Piñera will not win the next presidential election that will take place on November 17, 2013.

Given Prime Minister Stephen Harper is pursuing a similar agenda, perhaps he will face a similar electoral fate. In mid-April the CBC reported, “Prime Minister Stephen Harper has urged Latin American investors during a visit to Colombia to take a closer look at Canada’s mining industry in light of his government’s plans to streamline the regulatory process for major natural resource projects. …Harper told a forum of CEOs his government’s budget promise to speed up the regulatory process to develop major natural resource projects is a key reason they should invest.”