Chile has been having problems meeting its energy needs. Like many countries, it is currently facing an energy crisis due to the rise of fossil fuel prices. Today it imports about 72% of its energy in the form of gasoline, coal, and natural gas.
It seems that a lot of countries are facing the same problems; energy is becoming a scarce commodity. Is there a way to resolve the energy crisis with sustainable energy sources?
Last Saturday Morning, I witnessed a protest right on my street. The Cause of the protest is a hydroelectric dam project being developed in the southern part of Chile. The project is called HidroAysen, and it consists in making 6 hydroelectric dams in Chile’s 11th region.
I instantly remembered my sustainable energy classes at U of T, and recalled a presentation from a colleague on the theme of hydro electricity. Hydro electricity is a renewable resource, emits negligible carbon emissions from its operation, it is reliable and can compete economically with fossil fuels…
Why would people protest against it? Isn’t Hydro electricity a good thing?
This GIF was picked up from Patagonia sin Represas (Patagonia without dams) an environmental organization against the HidroAysen Project (www.patagoniasinrepresas.cl ). The reason why they disagree with the project is because of the large footprint that it will have on Chile’s natural environment, how private companies will benefit from the detriment of public land, and because the project bypassed proper environmental assessments on the grounds of being an urgent necessity. Chileans are proud of their virgin landscapes, the natural beauty of their country that is almost untouched in the South. The dams planned are located around various Andean mountains in the south which will directly change the relationship of water and land, and destroy the existing ecosystems in the surrounding areas. Environmentalists fear that many endangered species in those areas will be affected. In addition, since most of the population is located in the Central part of Chile, transmission lines would need to travel through half of Chile… scaring the landscapes, and perhaps damaging the eco-tourism that has developed.
An alternative that is proposed by the opposition is the exploitation of solar energy in the northern part of Chile (also the most arid dessert in the world). It is a rare occasion when it rains in that dessert, and they argue that it would have a lessened environmental impact since there is fewer fauna in the area.
Considering that Chile lies on the edges of tectonic plates, there is also large potential for geothermal energy. Its Coastal geography also gives opportunities for offshore wind power, and tidal energy… I am not suggesting that energy needs of tomorrow are easily solved, but I do believe that these types of projects should have a thorough environmental assessment, and have open discussions with the public.