Chile says no to hydroelectric project, UI alum Marcelo Mena-Carrasco comments on the decision

Chile’s Patagonian region — photo by Derekandnona, Creative Commons

Citing unresolved environmental issues, the Chilean government rejected Tuesday the proposed $9 billion HidroAysen hydroelectric project slated for the country’s southern Patagonia region. The project, which received a partial green-light in 2011 under former President Sebastián Piñera, faced years of delays due to blow-back from various Chilean and international environmental groups.

Chile Undersecretary of the Environment Marcelo
Marcelo Mena-Carrasco, Chile’s Undersecretary of the Environment — photo courtesy of Marcelo Mena-Carrasco

“The committee of ministers underwent a solid review, which showed that the project was not viable as it never declared and evaluated the environmental impacts of the dam operation,” said Marcelo Mena-Carrasco, UI Alum and Chilean Undersecretary of the Environment. “The project approved in 2011 ignored concerns by evaluating parties which were never resolved.”

“We base the rejection on said concerns.”

Proponents in the business community have argued that the project, which would provide approximately 15-20 percent of the nation’s energy needs, aligns neatly with Chile’s goal of generating 25 percent of its energy from renewable resources by 2025. However, President Michelle Bachelet’s administration, which took over in mid-March, says the energy payoff doesn’t supersede the environmental concerns.

The plan included five dams to be built on the Baker and Pascua Rivers, generating 2,750 megawatts of electricity and flooding nearly 6,000 hectares of Patagonian land in the process. Since its inception, critics have lamented the impact this flooding would have on the biodiverse Patagonia region — host to one of the largest freshwater reserves in the world — as well as its impact on local populations, some of which would be displaced by the flooding.

Mena-Carrasco, who took up his Chilean cabinet position in February, says the last few months have been a “great time,” noting that the administration is working on a number of new environmental strategies. He says a Chilean parks service and carbon tax are currently in the works, and a number of lofty goals have been established in an effort to mitigate air pollution.

In addition to its goal of generating 25 percent of its energy from renewable resources by 2025, the administration has also set out to cut energy consumption, as a whole, by 20 percent by that same year.