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Five Hydroelectric Dams Confirmed For Chile

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The dams are planned to be built in on the Baker and the Pascua rivers, which are known to be two of the most clean bodies of water in the world. (Photo: J. Pablo Oitana)
The dams are planned to be built in on the Baker and the Pascua rivers, which are known to be two of the most clean bodies of water in the world. (Photo: J. Pablo Oitana)

ECONOMY

  • Approval to build 5 dams in Patagonia prompts protests from thousands
  • Energy giants Matte and Endesa are behind the dam construction; they manage 70% of electricity in Chile
  • Dams, if built, will take up over 14,000 acres of wilderness in Chile

The construction approval for 5 hydroelectric dams to power local mining companies has sparked nationwide protests in Chile. Marking the largest public outcry Chile has seen in over a decade, more than 80,000 protesters took to the streets of Santiago, with another 50,000 protesting in Valparaiso and thousands more in another 26 cities around the country.

The upset stems from the ongoing battle between parties who strive for the preservation of Chile’s natural environment and others who want to advance local infrastructure. Although the dams will help the area meet increased electricity demands, environmental organizations and citizens feel that they were not a part of the decision-making process – getting neither the chance to approve or improve the project.

Baker & Pascua Location

The dams are planned to be built in Patagonia, on the Baker and the Pascua rivers, which are known to be two of the most natural and clean bodies of water in the world. Baker is also Chile’s highest-flow river.

Environmentalists argue that Chile could adopt energy saving strategies and better focus on reducing power consumption. They are in favor of using new technologies and energy innovation, such as wind or geothermal power generation.

The power couple behind the 5-dam construction project – called HidroAysen – is Colbun, belonging to Chile’s Matte, and Endesa, which belongs to Italian Enel. Together they manage 70% of the nation’s electricity market, and Endesa controls both the Pascua and the Baker rivers.

If the dams are built, there is a risk that nearly 5,910 hectares, or 14,000 acres, of land and wilderness could be flooded.

Key Statistics – Chile’s Economy (source: CIA World Factbook)

  • Chile’s GDP per capita PPP in 2010 was an estimated $15,500 compared to $14,900 in 2009; Chile ranks 72 in the world in this category.
  • The unemployment rate was 8.7% in Chile and the labor force was 7.5 million in 2010; labor force in agriculture is 13%, with industry listed at 23% and services at 63%.
  • The leading industries are copper, lithium, foods, fish processing and other minerals (iron, steel).

By C. Williams for
C. Williams is a journalist based in the United States. She has been covering the news for over a decade.

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