Opponents of the so-called Aysén Project, a massive hydroelectric venture planned for extreme south Chile's Region XI, will be mounting a symbolic, nine-day cavalcade later this month.
Organizers of the 320-kilometer horseback ride are hoping it will bring attention to local communities – places like Tortel and Villa O'Higgins – that could be negatively affected should the government eventually approve the polemical dam project. "This will be one of the principal initiatives to expose what until now has been covered up, that our people, in terms of their lives as they current know them, are threatened," said Marco Antonio Díaz, president of the Defenders of the Spirit of Patagonia (ADEP), the Region XI-based community group behind the planned cavalcade. The epic journey, which could involve as many as 100 riders, is set to begin Monday, Nov. 19, in Cochrane's central square. Cochrane is one of many towns in the region that because of their proximity to either the Baker or Pascua Rivers – the waterways at the center of the Aysén Project controversy – have an immediate stake in the planned dam venture. The riders expect to complete the marathon cavalcade in Coyhaique, Aysén's regional capital, on Nov. 29th. "If allowed to go through, the projects for the dams and transmission line – plus other projects that are in the works – would seriously impact our quality of life in Patagonia, both culturally and economically," said Díaz. The ADEP are joined by dozens of local, national and international organizations in opposing the Aysén Project, which is being planned by energy companies Endesa and Colbún. Working together via a joint entity called HidroAysén, the two utilities plan to build five dams – two on the Baker and three on the Pascua – that would together produce some 2,750 MW of electricity. The estimated cost of the project, which has yet to be approved by government environmental authorities, is 2.5 billion US dollars. That hefty price tag does not include an additional 1.5 billion US dollars Canadian-owned company Transelec is expected to spend on a 2,200-km transmission line, which would be needed to transport the electricity from Aysén to energy-hungry central Chile. Backers of the project say its 2,750 MW potential would go a long way toward meeting Chile's electricity needs, which are said to be growing in excess of 6% annually. Critics of the project, however, say the dams would be environmentally and culturally devastating for the pristine southern zone. Environmentalists say Chile should instead look to develop sustainable, non-conventional energy sources: such as wind and solar. The Santiago Times