Monday, February 18, 2013

Conservacion Patagonica

  The title “In Patagonia, Caught between Visions of the Future” is a perfect paraphrase of the article. In the small town of Cochrane, Chile you can see two opposing movements. On one side you have environmental conservation and the other they are trying to exploit the environment for energy in the form of a large hydroelectric dam. The people in this small town are torn between sides. Many of the residents support the move towards energy independence but are not sure how the project will affect local culture.
  The hydroelectric dam project, known as HidroAysen, is a partnership between a Chilean company and an Italian- Spanish company. The $10 billion project is set to generate 2,750 megawatts, through a series of five dams. The Chilean government is in support of the project, but the people around the proposed sites are not exactly on the same page. HidroAysen has invested into the town of Cochrane, providing jobs and improved infrastructure. Those opposed to the project say the project would damage the ecosystems around the sites.
  Right next to the proposed project in Cochrane is the entrance to Conservacion Patagonica, a 660,000-acre National Park. Conservacion Patagonica is under the control of former chief executive of the Patagonia Clothing company. The fact that it is run by an outsider raises concern for many of the locals. Many view their efforts as an infringement on the lifestyle locals have had for hundreds of years. They are working to restore their reputation with the locals.
  Despite the local opposition, Conservacion Patagonica is doing a great service for the area. If they didn’t own the land I am sure other people would be looking to use the land for something. But they are conserving it for no economic gain; they have the best interests of the environment at heart.

  Since the previous article was released, HidroAysen has suspended the environmental impact assessment, which is required before construction can start. Colbun, a Chilean company and one of the two companies backing HidroAysen, has stated that the uncertainty in Chile’s long-term energy strategy is a major reason in suspending progress. Many believe Colbun is using this as an excuse to back out of the costly project, with other outside investors already showing interest. This would open the door for the project to be completely foreign funded.
  In my opinion it would be in Chile’s best interests to pursue alternate forms of renewable energy that are less impactful on the environment. Both the people and government seem to be on the fence regarding a $10 billion project that would not be reversible. Chile should first plot a long-term energy plan and follow it. A study by international energy experts show that Chile has the potential to generate renewable energy via much more efficient methods than HidroAysen.

--Matt Heilman

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