Great News! Chile Saves Pristine Wilderness From Big Hydro, Turns On Solar

It’s a great week in Chile, as citizens sigh in relief that five mega-dams are cancelled and the first large solar plant is turned on.

Chile’s government canceled permits for HidroAysén – a disastrous plan that would have put five enormous dams across two of Patagonia’s rivers, destroying them forever. The area is one of the wildest, undisturbed places left on our planet. 

"At the southernmost tip of South America, the towering Andes rise sharply from the deep waters of the Pacific, creating a rugged expanse of coastal islands, dense rainforests and snow-capped glaciers," says Natural Resources Defense Council, which has been working to protect the region as part of the Patagonia Defense Council – a coalition of 70 local and international organizations. 

Patagonia

After an 8 year campaign with on-going protests on the ground and tens of thousands of messages urging her to cancel the hydro project, Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet responded. 

In addition to the dams – which would flood thousands of acres of wildlife habitat – transmission infrastructure would have clearcut the forest, all to bring electricity to mining companies.

"This is like building Hoover Dam at the entrance to Yosemite Valley," says Rick Ridgeway, vice president of outdoor gear company Patagonia. The company is named after the region and contributed millions of dollars to protect it.    

"The government’s definitive rejection of the HidroAysén project is not only the greatest triumph of the environmental movement in Chile, but marks a turning point, where an empowered public demands to be heard and to participate in the decisions that affect their environment and lives," says Patricio Rodrigo, Executive Secretary of the Patagonia Defense Council.

Studies show Chile can generate the same amount of energy through its extraordinary solar, wind and geothermal resources.  And Chile is beginning to use it. 

Solar In The Desert

Built in just six months, SunEdison inaugurated the largest solar PV plant on the continent, the 100 megawatt (MW) Amanacer solar farm in Atacama Desert. It is also building a 92 MW and 50 MW solar plant there.

And construction begins this year on Latin America’s first concentrating solar plant, a 110 MW project by Abengoa, which will have the ability to store energy.

First Solar acquired the leading Chilean solar developer to gain a foothold there. Solar Chile has more than 1.5 gigawatts (GW) of early to mid-stage projects in its portfolio across four regions of Northern Chile.

Atacama – the driest desert anywhere – has the highest solar radiation concentration in the world.

Earlier this year, Chile’s recently elected progressive government announced it will tax carbon emissions. Its National Energy Strategy 2012-2030 has a target of reducing energy consumption through efficiency by 12%, while getting 20% of energy from renewables by 2024.

Chile is the world’s top copper producer and coal-fired power plants currently provide energy for most of the mines.

Read our article, Mega-Dams Don’t Even Make Economic Sense, Say Researchers.

10 Things You Should Know About Dams:

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