Will Patagonia Become A Vast Factory For Electricity?

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Well folks, it’s really happening. Our exploding human population has forced the search for new energy resources all the way to the end of the Earth. Yep, that’s right, the energy apocalypse is finally upon us, and I never even bothered to invest in that solar-powered book light I had been saving up for.

Okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but the repercussions of what may happen to one of the world’s last remaining raw wildernesses just may be grounds for a little embellishment.

The Financial Times recently reported that an expansive area of Patagonian wilderness encompassing the mighty Pascua river, temperate Valdivian rainforests, two continental ice sheets and the largest span of permanent ice outside Antarctica and Greenland, has been sitting under the ticking time bomb of a potentially destructive hydroelectric project.

Proposed by Endesa Chile, a former state-owned power company now owned by Italian and Spanish energy firms, the $7bn HidroAysén scheme is centred around the construction of five large dams on the Pascua and the nearby Río Baker, which will flood some 23 sq miles of forest.

Together with local partners, Endesa plans to build a 1,180 mile transmission line, much of it through temperate forests of a type found nowhere outside Patagonia. Protected by a logged corridor more than 300ft wide, the power line would become one of the world’s longest clear-cuts.

This pristine stretch of natural landscapes, officially dubbed the Región XI, Aysén, has been a popular destination for hikers, climbers, nature lovers and those looking for some sweet adventure while kayaking, fishing and biking in a truly undisturbed environment.

In the past, Chile has relied on Argentina for energy by importing natural gas, but since 2004, the demand for energy has increased so much that Argentina can barely supply its own market, leaving Chile’s growing demand (6 percent annually) unquenched.

The Endesa project is extremely controversial to say the least, and the stakes are high for both nature and man. It is believed that 14 national parks will be affected, and the habitat of thousands of endemic species put at risk. Another large concern is that if the project is approved, it will open the door to a slew of other power projects that could ultimately decimate the region.

It seems as though the Endesa project is a stark reflection of the growing resource shortages worldwide. It’s that grossly familiar battle between the preservation of nature and the struggle to support the growing wants of mankind. The most frightening aspect of it all is that in this fight, the winner may take all.

[Perito Moreno glacier by pclw/Flickr]

By Maria Russo


About the Author

Maria Russo is a freelance writer who loves natural wonders, good eats, ethical travel, and boutique hotels. Her work has appeared on the Huffington Post, USA Today.com, People.com and A Luxury Travel Blog, among others.

When Maria is not writing for her all-time favorite site (that would be The Expeditioner), she spends her time blogging about foreign jaunts and delectable food experiences for her site: Memoirs of a Travel & Food Addict. She is also up to no good on Twitter (@traveladdictgrl, @expedmaria).

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