Energia Austral lowers the curtain on the Rio Cuervo project

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 Photo: Coalición Aisén Reserva de VidaPhoto: Coalición Aisén Reserva de Vida 

By Peter Hartmann
While we were thinking about writing about the Patagonian delusions of Chilean right wing pol Pablo Longueira and other "Martian initiatives" such as the Global Sustainable Tourism Council Conference, current events surprised us with the news in Santiago newspaper La Tercera of the “curtain dropping" om the Rio Cuervo project according to sources from "industry".


After all, it’s another one of those "flying saucer" initiatives for extra-regional people to decide what to do with the Aysen region. It looks like a habit. While decades ago the "nothing and nobodies" were a colony of Chile or rather of Santiago, now we are that of globalized corporations.
While we wait for a confirmation of the news, although these companies usually don’t boast of their defeats, it is worth remembering that Energía Austral is a subsidiary of the mining company of bad fame, Glencore, and the Australian company Origin Energy and was put up for sale last year, closing their offices in the region.  Previously, Glencore had tried without success to increase the participation of Origin Energy. In turn, the Rio Cuervo project is only part of another major project that included damming the Rio Blanco and Rio Condor, of which they hold water-use rights.



Photo: Coalición Aisén Reserva de VidaPhoto: Coalición Aisén Reserva de Vida



There was also the issue of how to get the energy out of the region and years ago they protested to the four winds that would do it through a submarine cable, a possibility whose viability they were evaluating. And that evaluation was never known. And for good reason. Since then, the infeasibility of the project that began to depend on whether there was a buyer became apparent. And apparently there isn't. What investor is going to mess with an unviable "Cacho"?
The Rio Cuervo project, despite its tremendous environmental impacts and its apparent increased risks for the area, was approved by the Regional Environmental Commission presided over by the notorious regional governor Pilar Cuevas. And then later, by the ministerial committee of the present government, whose president had committed to a Patagonia without dams. But it is still in the legal limbo, awaiting resolution of the Valdivia environmental court, and whomever loses will surely appeal to the Supreme Court, and the limbo would thus continue. Will the curtain fall also because the they learned that things in the court would not be in their favor? If that’s the case, it would have meant they would also be less likely to find a buyer.
In any case, if they lower the curtain, what we hope is that they get rid of their water rights, mainly consumptive rights, a strange case of hydroelectric projects. If they do so, they will stop paying more than two million dollars a year a for non-use patent, which must be one of the reasons for ending the project. It is worth remembering that these rights are inflated and at the time they were calculated on the basis of extrapolating data from other channels with a methodology questioned by the director of the governmental water agency of the time.



Photo: Iñi PiñiPhoto: Iñi Piñi



The other thing we have asked for years ago from the CEO of Xstrata in Switzerland (then absorbed by Glencore), is that instead of destroying an area of great environmental value and magnificent scenery, the watershed of the Yulton and Meullin lakes and the Quetru wetlands, do something similar to what Goldman Sachs did with the land of the former Trillium company in Tierra del Fuego and protection them.  For those of us who know the place, it is really one of the most beautiful and valuable landscapes that we have ever seen! We think it would be nice to integrate that area into the new network of Patagonian parks. In addition, these lands were acquired at a vile price (according to the ministry of national property) by Proyectos de Aysén, so the loss is not going to hurt too much.
Finally, it is worth remembering that the Ministry of Energy was very interested in this project. One way or another it was encouraging the project to have more "continuous and renewable" hydroelectric MW in the national electric grid and even possibly provide "cheap energy" for the Aysen system. This, despite considering much its viability, impacts and risks, and up until they realized that they no longer needed this energy, which could be obtained at a lower cost and closer to the demand with non-conventional renewable energies. The same happens in the here in the Aysen region, where its energy policy is being developed, where the energy export megaprojects have been perhaps the main source of controversy and disagreement.
Peter Hartmann is coordinator of Coalición Ciudadana por Aisén Reserva de Vida.

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