Colbun's 170-MW hydro project in Chile hits another roadblock

Author: U.S. Army Corps of Engine. License: Creative Commons, Attribution 2.0 Generic.

January 30 (Renewables Now) – Two communities in the Chilean region Los Rios have rejected plans by power company Colbun to build a 170-MW hydropower plant on the San Pedro river citing environmental concerns, local media reported Tuesday.

The municipality Panguipulli said that the population close to the construction site would be exposed to risks such as earthquakes, intense rain and floods, mass removal, volcanic activity and fires due to the project’s location.

Panguipulli mayor Rodrigo Valdivia highlighted the impact the project would have on the development of local tourism, notably kayaking and rafting, as well as the local animal and plant life.

Los Lagos mayor Samuel Torres said that none of Colbun’s voluntary environmental commitments could reverse the damage that the construction would cause to the local community, biodiversity and tourism.

Last week, indigenous community Mapuche issued a declaration criticising Colbun’s construction plans saying that the San Pedro river was an important part of their spirituality.

Colbun’s San Pedro project has been in the works for more than a decade during which it drew criticism from citizens, activists and geologists.  

Fernanda Ochoa, a geophysicist at the University of Concepcion, told local news portal Politika that Chile intends to commit to non-conventional renewable energy, and hydropower plants with installed capacity above 20 MW are not considered as such.

With an investment standing at USD 607 million (EUR 530.9m), the project’s design included a reservoir, a substation and high voltage transmission line.

The company’s environmental impact study received approval in 2008. The construction work began in January 2009 but had to be halted in 2011 due to landslides on the southern slope, the presence of cracks on the northern slope and faults in the riverbed.  

In 2015, Colbun presented another environmental impact study which was rejected as relevant information was missing. In December 2018, the company submitted a third study prompting the latest wave of disapproval.

(USD 1.0 = EUR 0.87)

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Sladjana is the newest addition to the Renewables Now team. She has significant experience as a Spain-focused business news reporter and is now diving deeper into the global renewable energy industry.

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