A new national poll shows that over half of Chileans are against the proposed hydroelectric plants in Patagonia. This lack of public support for the dams comes at a critical time when HidroAysén is trying to ram through the environmental review for its proposed mega-dams with an insufficient environmental impact assessment. Clearly, HidroAysén’s massive public relations campaign where they have repeatedly asserted that “Chileans want HidroAysén” is failing.
Specifically, the poll showed that 57.8% of Chileans are against hydroelectric development in Patagonia, 31.1% are in favor, and 8.3% are undecided. Over the last two years, popular sentiment against the dams has grown. The percentage of people against hydroelectric development in Patagonia is the highest ever since Ipsos – one of the largest public opinion survey companies in the world—started asking this question in Chile in 2008:
data from Ipsos Public Affairs, “Estudio de Opinión Pública, Septiembre 2010”
The dams are no more popular in the Patagonia Region, where they are proposed to be constructed: 55.6% of respondents are against them, and 33.1% are for.
These new numbers come at a decisive time in the four-year campaign to stop the proposal from HidroAysén to build five mega-dams on two of the country’s wildest rivers, the Baker and the Pascua, and a 1200 mile-long transmission line. A 2009 technical study that NRDC supported and which has never been challenged showed that the energy from the dams is not needed; more than enough new plants have already been approved to meet the country’s demand through 2025. There is simply no rush to approve this massive $7 billion scheme.
Yet, HidroAysén is trying to ram through the environmental review process. Right now, Chilean state agencies are reviewing HidroAysén’s third attempt to produce an adequate environmental impact assessment (EIA). State agencies and civil society have already pointed out a number of serious problems with earlier versions of the EIA (which I described in more detail here and here), including:
- The complete omission of the environmental impacts of the transmission line.
- The misidentification of the most basic and crucial scientific data, including the baseline data, the type of rock on which the dams would be constructed, the flooding zones, and more.
- The improper plan for forest and deforestation management.
- The lack of a description of the costs and benefits of the project, which would justify its construction and describe the need for the dams’ output.
- The lack of consideration of alternatives to this plant, including the “no option” alternative, which is standard to EIA processes in other developed countries.
- Concern for the potential effects of climate change on the dams, notably the increasing occurrence of glacial lake-sourced floods, which can threaten the integrity and functioning of the dams.
While a decision is not due until the end of the year, Director of the Regional Environmental Authority has already indicated that they will ask HidroAysén for yet another round of review – a sign that once again, HidroAysén has not provided an quality EIA.
Over the last three months, HA has mounted a massive media campaign, saying that Chile needs HidroAysén, Chileans want HidroAysén, and that the only other alternative to the dams would be coal plants. With these new polls, it’s clear that the public hasn’t been persuaded. And we sincerely hope that the technical agencies will not succumb to these messages as well. Chile has all of the resources necessary to meet its future energy demand without environmentally destructive projects like HidroAysén. Please support the Chilean people’s desire for a sustainable energy future and tell the government not to approve these massive hydroelectric schemes.