May 10, 2011 - large hydroelectric dams in Chile?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Hydroelectric dams offers society the opportunity to generate large amounts of electricity without consuming any fuel, but can come with local environmental, social and political impacts. In North America, Canadian provincial corporation Hydro-Quebec generates nearly 40 gigawatts of electricity from its hydro facilities, making Quebec a regional power in the energy sector.  Now, a nation at the other end of the earth is considering developing similar hydropower resources.

The Chilean government has given environmental permits for a $7 billion project to build five dams totaling 2.75 gigawatts on the Baker and Pascua rivers in Patagonia. The project, proposed by HidroAysen, would generate enough electricity to cover about a third of Chile's current load, and could allow Chile to export power to neighboring countries.  With no domestic oil or natural gas supplies, hydropower represents a key Chilean energy resource.  Chile is home to a booming mining industry, meaning it not only demands large amounts of electricity but -- like Quebec -- Chile also has a philosophy relatively supportive of development of its hinterlands. 

On the other hand, some locals as well as international interests oppose the project, arguing that the area's landscape, wildlife, and societies are worthy of conservation. The Baker and Pascua rivers are also heavily visited by tourists interested in the free-flowing rivers, meaning dam development may adversely impact the local economy.

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