Río Baker, Aysén Region.

Since 2007 the Patagonia Defense Council – along with many local, national and international organizations united to form the “Patagonia Without Dams” campaign – which has focused on protecting the Aysen Region from deleterious social, environmental and un-sustainable economic activities, which were typified, most notably by large hydroelectric infrastructure projects and their associated transmission towers.

In the process, great emphasis has been placed on the conservation value of undisturbed free flowing aquatic ecosystems and the alternative of promoting non-conventional renewable energy as a national preference and policy for Chile.  In recognition of the Aysen Region’s uniqueness, as a reservoir of cultural and biological diversity, such an exceptional territory should be entitled to a better future, in harmony with its environment and its communities, than as the “Great Battery of Chile”, as it has been dubbed by some in the energy sector.

One of the main threats faced by the Aysen Region is the HidroAysén Project, a joint venture between Italy’s Enel (51% through Endesa) and Chile’s Colbún (49%) energy companies, which sought to build two dams on the Baker River and three on the Pascua River. After being approved during the government of Sebastián Piñera, in its regional and national stages, in 2014, the Committee of Ministers of the administration of Michelle Bachelet revoked the prior approval and subsequently rejected the project in its entirety. The HidroAysén consortium has now resorted to petitioning Chile’s Environmental Courts to challenge the decision, and today the litigation is on-going in the Environmental Court of Santiago.

In parallel, the company is challenging before the Court of Appeals of Santiago the decision of the Ministry of Public Works, which rejected requests for the wáter rights necessary to move the HidroAysén Project forward, because of concerns regarding minimum reserve flows needed to sustain the river eco-systems.

The other looming threat to the Aysen Region is the Rio Cuervo Hydroelectric Project, which is being developed by a consortium of Switzerland’s Glencore (66%) and Australia’s Origin Energy (34%). The project entails the construction of two large dams located in each of the arms of the Cuervo River, flooding 13,000 hectares, which would allow an installed capacity of 640 MW with an initial investment of $733 million USD. This initiative was approved at the regional level by the government of Sebastián Piñera and ratified by the Committee of Ministers of Michelle Bachelet in 2016.

The organizations that participated in the original environmental assessment process are presenting challenges in the Environmental Court of Valdivia, where the discussion of the legality of environmental approval process of the hydroelectric project is currently being debated.

By Patricio Segura Ortiz

Journalist Aysén