by Staff Writers
Santiago (AFP) Jan 31, 2014
The construction of five controversial hydroelectric power plants, part of an energy project in Chile's Patagonia region, has been suspended pending further studies on their possible environmental impact.
A meeting of various Chilean ministers late Thursday saw the project's construction pushed back for a review of complaints by environmental organizations.
The groups fear the project will damage one of the planet's most pristine regions.
The HidroAysen energy project, a joint venture by Spanish energy giant Endesa and Chilean energy company Colbun, is slated for the country's far south, in the isolated Aysen region of Patagonia.
The project, which includes five dams on the Baker and Pascua Rivers, would flood some 5,900 hectares (14,580 acres) in the region.
It would also generate some 2,750 megawatts of power, or 20 percent of Chile's current capacity.
The project represents $3 billion in investments and obtained an environmental permit from the Chilean government in May 2011.
Electricity from HidroAysen would fuel Chile's northern mining sector via one of the world's longest high-voltage power lines, stretching more than 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles).
The new delay, however, could last more than eight moths, pushing a final decision on the project into the hands of president-elect Michelle Bachelet, who takes office on March 11.
Bachelet has already indicated that she considers the project "nonviable."
HidroAysen officials indicated in a statement that they "are waiting for clear information from authorities on decisions relating to complaints" after which "the company will evaluate and decide what measures to take."
Chile's power grid is faced with a large deficit, but over the next 20 years is expected to see a 50 percent increase from its current production capacity of 16,900 megawatts, according to the government.
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