Rios Libres Video Dispatches: Part 1, The People

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In the weeks immediately following the Aysen region’s environmental approval of the HidroAysen dams project in May 2011, historic protests mobilized as many as 40,000 people into the streets in downtown Santiago. 

One year later, Chilean energy company Colbun, a partner in HidroAysen, publicly recommended that work on the environmental impact study for the mammoth, 2300-km transmission line needed to connect the dams power to Santiago be shelved indefinitely, acknowledging the need for a new national debate on energy policies.
 
In his May 31 letter last year to the commissioner of Chile’s Securities and Insurance Commission (equivalent to the Securities and Exchange Commission in the U.S.) Bernardo Matte, president of Colbun, said, in part: “While there is no national policy that has broad consensus and gives guidelines for the energy matrix that the country needs, Colbún believes that the conditions do not exist to develop energy projects of this magnitude and complexity.”
 
Today, there is still no national consensus on Chile’s energy policies, but opinion polls repeatedly suggest the vast majority of Chileans are clear on one thing: they do not want the HidroAysen project to go forward.
 
The HidroAysen project calls for five dams on the Baker and Pascua rivers with a collective installed capacity of 2,750 megawatts, but by the time it comes on line in ten or more years, if it is built, there are energy alternatives that will be much cheaper and more sustainable for Chileans.
 
Studies show the 6-7% annual energy-demand growth forecast by the government between now and 2020 is vastly overestimated. Considering past trends, a more realistic growth rate would be 4.5% at most. According to an April 2011 Bloomberg New Energy Finance study, wind, biomass, geothermal and small hydro in Chile are already cheaper than HidroAysén, natural gas or coal. SunEdison, a U.S.-based solar energy company which recently won approval for a 100 megawatts photovoltaic facility in the northern Chilean Atacama desert, argues solar is already cost-competitive with other forms of energy in Chile. Moreover, Chilean government studies show the Atacama has about 20,000 hectares apt for solar energy power production that could potentially generate as much as 10,000 megawatts of solar energy in the future – equivalent to nearly four HidroAysen projects or about 80 percent of Chile’s current energy supply.
 
  “The government is presenting a false dilemma to the public, its either coal or HidroAysen, when in fact neither are needed,” says Stephen Hall, an energy consultant in Chile who previously worked on the Chilean government’s energy efficiency programs during the previous 2006-2010 Michelle Bachelet government.
 
Six years ago, I traveled the length of the Carretera Austral, making an unforgettable visit to several communities and people who live on the Baker River in Aysen. There I also got to know some of the locals that are spotlighted in this short video clip below, one of a 4-part video series of “Environmental Dispatches” that is to be released this month. The videos stem from the new film,”Streams of Consequences,” produced by Rios Libres, an environmental campaign in the U.S. led by a team of photographers, videographers and writers that want to help convince Chile to put a halt to the HydroAysen project.  
 
Like Rios Libres, I was also inspired not only by the magnificent wild natural beauty of the Aysen region, but by the warmth and strong character of the people who live there and whom are now at risk because of this short-sighted energy project.  Check back with us each Monday over the next three weeks to view the other parts of the video. 
 

Episode 1- The People from Rios Libres 

 

Photo courtesy of Rios Libres/James Q Martin

 

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