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NEWS: Chile approves five dams in Patagonia

The Globe and Mail reports, “A $7-billion project to dam two of the world’s wildest rivers for electricity has won environmental approval Monday from a Chilean government commission despite a groundswell of opposition. The commissioners – all political appointees in President Sebastian Pinera’s government – concluded a three-year environmental review by approving five dams on the Baker and Pascua rivers in Aysen (in southern Patagonia).”

The Guardian adds, “Environmentalists predict more damage from the (1,600 kilometres of) transmission lines (to Santiago), which face a separate environmental review in December. Their construction could open remote Patagonia to much more development, and the area’s abundant water could attract even more dams once the lines are built.” As you will see below, those transmission lines are being supported by Canadian pension funds and a Canadian investment company.

The Globe and Mail notes, “Only three dozen families would be relocated, but the dams would drown 5,700 hectares/ 15,000 acres (of rare forest ecosystems, river families and farmland), require carving clear-cuts through forests, and eliminate whitewater rapids and waterfalls that attract ecotourism. They also would destroy habitat for the endangered Southern Huemul deer: Fewer than 1,000 of the diminutive animals, a national symbol, are believed to exist.”

The dams are being built because the “energy-intensive mining industry (is) clamouring for more power and (with) living standards improving, some analysts say Chile must triple its (energy) capacity in just 15 years, despite having no domestic oil or natural gas.”

“Opposition has grown to 61 per cent of Chileans according to the latest Ipsos Public Affairs poll, and the government is concerned about a backlash.”

And “more than 1,000 people gathered outside the hearing in the regional hub of Coyhaique, chanting and carrying signs. Some threw rocks at the cars of commissioners, and clashed afterward with hundreds of police, who responded with a water cannon and tear gas. Several protesters were bloodied in the melee, and the commissioners were kept inside for their safety. In downtown Santiago, several thousand people blocking a main avenue in protest also encountered tear gas and police water cannons.”

Bloomberg reports, “Chile approved a hydroelectric project that would flood Patagonian valleys, sparking protests and more than a hundred arrests around the country. Police fired water cannons and tear gas at demonstrators outside the building in the city of Coyhaique, where 11 of the 12 members of an environment commission voted in favor of the HidroAysen project that Santiago-based Empresa Nacional de Electricidad SA and Colbun SA want to build.”

Agence France Presse notes, “Environmentalists are preparing a legal battle to fight the project, scheduled to begin in 2014 in the wet and green mountainous region.”

Those opposing the project include the Chile-based Patagonia Without Dams coalition, Greenpeace Chile, the US-based Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Council of Canadians.

Though not reported in the Globe and Mail article, Canada’s Brookfield Asset Management, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, and the British Columbia Investment Management Corp are all supporters of the destructive HidroAysen project through Transelec Chile SA, which they control.

The Patagonia Times reported almost three years ago that, “Endesa and Colbun (the Spanish and Chilean companies that own the dam project) have a deal with Transelec to build a 1,200-mile transmission line connecting the HidroAysen dams to Chile’s central SIC grid.” Additionally, “(Swiss-based mining company) Xstrata Copper – via a local affiliate called Energia Austral – has (also) reached an agreement with Transelec to develop a transmission line that would stretch from (three of the dams now approved to) to the central part of the country.”

The transmission lines would require more than 1,200 miles of clearcut through five national parks and two wilderness reserves.

A February 2008 Council of Canadians action alert opposing the dams and the transmission lines states – The intention of Brookfield Asset Management, the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board, and the British Columbia Investment Management Corporation should be opposed by Canadians. All Canadian workers residing outside of Quebec contribute 4.95% of their earnings to the Canada Pension Plan. Some 16 million Canadians contribute to or benefit from the CPP. And, according to their website, the British Columbia Investment Management Corporation helps “to finance the retirement benefits of more than 400,000 residents of British Columbia.” We should all have a voice in this matter.