After a three hour meeting on Tuesday, a committee of five ministers in Michelle Bachelet’s cabinet has rejected the HidroAysén project–a hydroelectric plan to build five dams in two rivers in Patagonia that would have generated 2,750-megawatts of energy and increased power generation in Chile by 10 percent. The project, backed by the companies Endesa Chile and Colbún with an investment of $3.2 billion dollars, faced massive protests throughout the country soon after its approval on May 9, 2011 by the Comisión de Evaluación Ambiental (Commission of Environmental Evaluation—CEA). The two companies have 30 days to appeal to the Tercer Tribunal Ambiental de Valdivia (Third Environmental Tribunal of Valdivia), which will have the last word on the project.
Environment Minister Pablo Badenier, the head of the committee, stated that the decision was made after the committee accepted the demands of local communities and Chilean citizens as whole. In addition, Energy Minister Maximo Pacheco said the plan failed to take into account its impacts on the local ecology and populations, and did not sufficiently quantify damage to the environment and wildlife. CEO of HidroAysén, Daniel Fernandez, lamented the move as a “lost opportunity” for the Aysén region, one of the most isolated and poorest areas of Chile.
Former Environment Minister under Sebastián Piñera, María Ignacia Benítez, noted the political nature of the decision, and said that she “did not understand the reasons for the rejection.” Nevertheless, environmental groups celebrated the decision as a victory, and emphasized that this was just the first of many denials of projects that are damaging to the environment in Chile.