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Colbun has decided to stop work on the $3.2 billion HidroAysen dam in the southern Patagonia region of Chile due to worldwide opposition. Colbun claims that before the project can move from the planning stage to the construction stage, Chile’s government must come up with an energy strategy that has wide support.
The dam would supposedly provide a third of Chile’s electricity, mainly to copper mines and the capital city of Santiago. The project would include five dams across two rivers in a highly remote region that would flood 15,000 acres of land. Protesters claim the dam would destroy valuable natural environment including famous ice fields, glaciers, mountains, and fjords.
Laguna San Rafael National Park would also be destroyed and thirteen different endangered species would be threatened, including the Huemul, an Andean deer. The protestors also oppose the power lines that would have to be put up to get the power to the necessary regions and cities.
Colbun is only the minority holder of the project with Endesa, a Spanish-owned company, possessing fifty-one percent of the project. Endesa is still planning to continue with the project as of now. Chile claims that Colbun’s request for an energy strategy is ridiculous because Chile’s government already has a new plan out this year. According to the BBC, this disagreement could halt the project for years.
Thousands of protesters across Chile have protested the dam since a supreme court decision allowed the project to continue. The protesters claim that in addition to the environmental threats the dam is also mainly for the benefit of mining companies, not for the average consumer.
Chile is the world’s top copper produce and many of the mining companies in the region, such as Codelco and BHP Billiton are planning $100 billion expansions. These expansions mean that Chile will have to double its energy production
President Sebastian Pinera, the first conservative president of Chile since the reinstatement of democracy in 1990, says that he supports the project because it will help reduce Chile’s 96% dependence on foreign oil; however, his support has been falling in the polls.
Colbun may wait until Pinera is voted out of office in the 2014 elections because his approval rating is so low, at 24% in April 2012, that they are worried it will hurt the reputation of their company and the project. Instead Colbun believes that waiting until the next president will probably result in less opposition. Whether or not they are correct is up for speculation.