Will Chile put lights out on that dam project?

A protester crouches by a sign that reads "No to HidroAysen," referring to Chile's ambitious, controversial hydro power project planned for the Patagonia region, on May 9, 2011, in Santiago.


Martin Bernetti

Environmentalists in Chile are celebrating after a new twist in the hydroelectric dam saga that has dragged on in its pristine Patagonia.

Patagonia is home to breathtaking nature — including two rivers that companies plan to dam up and use to generate electricity to satisfy the South American country's rising energy needs.

Environmental and social groups have campaigned hard against the project, claiming it would carve up one of the world's last great wildernesses.

The companies and the Chilean government, however, argue that the project would be developed in the eco-friendliest way possible.

But now Colbun, one of the two companies behind HidroAysen, has threatened to pull out. If it does, the dams “might never see the light of day,” the BBC reports.

Colbun apparently was spooked when it sensed a lack of a sound government energy strategy and fierce public opposition to one of Chile's biggest energy endeavors.

"As long as there is no national policy that has support from a broad consensus and provides the energy guidelines that this country needs, Colbun feels the conditions to develop energy projects of this scale and complexity are not met," Colbun said in a statement, Spanish news agency EFE reports.

Environmentalists say, we told you so.

“Colbun’s actions acknowledge that we are right,” Matias Asun, director of Greenpeace Chile, said in a statement on the organization’s website.

As GlobalPost correspondent Simeon Tegel reported, the HidroAysen project requires flooding some 14,500 acres and building multiple power stations to crank energy from two rivers in the southern Aysen region. Then it would need a 1,200-mile long transmission line to carry that power to the capital Santiago. All that would need investments upwards of $3 billion.

Colbun owns 49 percent of HidroAysen, reports Reuters, and the firm Endesa Chile owns the remainder.

BBC reports that Endesa says the project is still a go, but it has to mull over the news.

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