By Steve Casimiro, Adventure Journal, June 10, 2014
It has been a environmental battle with major consequences. On the one hand, two of the wildest rivers in South America, in the wildest part of Chile, still running free, cold, and strong. On the other, a huge commercial joint venture between Europeans and Chileans to spend $7 billion and build five dams that would generate 18 gigawatt hours. Today, the win goes to the land: Chile’s Ministry of Environment, after deliberating for three hours, denied the project, saying that the impact on the Patagonia land- and waterscape would be too heavy and that compensation to those who would be displaced is inadequate.
The HidroAysén project would have put two dams on Rios Baker, Chile’s longest, highest-flowing river, and three on Rio Pascua, the third-highest-flowing river. It would have clear-cut 1,000 miles of old-growth forest, stretched 1,500 miles of transmission lines, and flooded 15,000 acres. The Chilean people have been opposed to the plan, as has President Michelle Bachelet, but the proposal has been winding its way through the legal course, and not always in favor of the environment: Two years ago, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal by environmentalists and said HidroAysén could move forward.
Minister Antonio Horvath sought to assure Chileans that the decision wasn’t anti-growth. “There is a shift in the energy policy of Chile,” he said, pointing to the need to develop solar and wind projects.
This might not the last of HidroAysén, though. The consortium behind it can appeal to an environmental court, and at least one energy analyst thinks that it will reconfigure the project on a smaller scope and try again.