HidroAysén (Pronounced: / / EE-droh EYE-ssen, meaning AysénHydro in Spanish Audio [Spanish and English] (help·info)) is a megaproject that aims to build five hydroelectric power plants in Chile's Aysén Region, two on the Baker River and three on the Pascua River (with government subvention included to help relief costs).
The dams would generate a total of 2,750 MW with further capacity for 18,430 GWh on average annually. The projected cost is estimated at 3.2 billion U.S. dollars (1.5 trillion Chilean pesos), making it the largest energy project in the country's history.
According to HidroAysén, the project could generate 21% Central Interconnected System's (SIC) demand by 2020. A high-voltage direct current will be built between Aysén and the capital Santiago to feed the SIC and will include a submarine portion between Chaitén and Puerto Montt.
The dams were approved on May 9, 2011 under the government of President Sebastián Piñera. The decision was made by eleven counselors on a committee. Ten voted in favor, with one abstention. Twenty-seven days earlier the Foreign Investment Committee was already aware of the decision ahead of time. The transmission line is yet to be approved. If completed these companies would own 80% of the Chilean energy market together establishing a duopoly. The project was placed on hold in early June 2012 due to protests.
The lack of transparency in the decision making process was widely criticized by the Chilean public; In fact it elicited nation-wide street protests. The main detractors hope to initiate legal actions against the project, and have assured that the public demonstrations will be massive.
The planning process has also been harshly criticized by environmentalists and the local population of the Aysén del General Carlos Ibáñez del Campo Region. According to opinion polls in April 2011, the project was opposed by 61% of the population despite a massive public relations campaign in support of it. Later that same month upon government approval of the project opposition climbed to 74%.
The project is opposed by Greenpeace Chile with the slogan "¡Paren el circo, No a hidroaysén!" (Stop the circus, no Hidroaysén!) and "¡Salva la Patagonia!" (Save the Patagonia!). local groups show their opposition to the project with banners and bumper stickers reading, "Patagonia Sin Represas" ("Patagonia without dams").
Corporación Chile Ambiente (Chile Environmental Corporation) along with private citizens Elizabeth Schindele and Fran Yave Schindele filed a lawsuit against the megaproject based on water rights. They lost their case in the district court and later the supreme court rejected their appeal under the procedural rationale that such water rights cases cannot be appealed beyond the discretion of the lower court
The project is supported by the business community, conservative president Sebastián Piñera, and former socialist president Ricardo Lagos who stated that the project "es necesario" (is necessary) in public comments on the issue. The project is supported by 26% of the population, including 13% of self identified leftists and 41% of right wingers respectively according to Centro de Estudios, the research arm of the national La Tercera newspaper. Furthermore 19% of young people 18 to 34 years old and 34% of older people over age 55 approve of the project. Interestingly although the project has little public support 72% of respondents believe the project will become reality in spite of the opposition.
The project is estimated to flood 5,900Ha (14,579 acres) of natural reserves. It will also attract 5,000 workers from Chile and abroad. 3,000 km (1,864 miles) of electric wiring will be used to connect the project with the Central Interconnected System.
Based on study of the project construction and access roads will impact six national parks, eleven national reserves, twenty-six conservation priority sites, sixteen wetland areas and thirty-two privately owned protected conservation areas.
Two hydroelectric plants will be built on the Baker River.
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