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Hidroaysén hydroelectric project, Chile


In 2005 Endesa Chile S.A. announced a huge plan for energy generation where five large dams would have been built along the Baker and Pascua rivers in the Aysén Region, in the Chilean Patagonia. The project envisaged the flooding of about 6,000 ha of land and was controlled by the consortium Hidroaysén, owned by Endesa (since 2009 a subsidiary of Italian conglomerate ENEL), with a 51% stake and by Colbún S.A. which owns the other 49%. If completed, the companies would have owned 80% of the Chilean electricity market.

The dams were planned to have a capacity of 2,750 MW with production of 18,430 GWh on average annually. The cost was estimated at 3.2 billion U.S. dollars, making it the largest energy project in the country's history. According to HidroAysén, the project could generate 21% Central Interconnected System's (SIC) demand by 2020. A high-voltage direct current will be built between Aysén and the capital Santiago to feed the SIC and will include a submarine portion between Chaitén and Puerto Montt.

The hydroelectric project got a official approval on May 9, 2011 under the government of President Sebastián Piñera, despite huge mobilization and opposition by many groups from the civil society in Chile and abroad.

A massive campaign, Patagonia Sin Represas, started since the first rumors about the project reached the public. Cultural personalities like Manfred Max-Neef and the writer Luis Sepulveda, and the Foundation Futuro Aysén, have endorsed the opposition campaign. The controversy was based both on environmental and social issues, due the heavy and unprecedented impacts on the region. Moreover, the plan for the transmission line was not even discussed, nor any plan was made public yet.

The electricity would have gone mainly for the mining industry in the North of the country, particularly for copper extraction.

Oppositors have strongly questioned the extractivist economy of Chile and denounced the colonial and pro-private law regulating water use (Codigo de Agua).

Patagonia sin Represas and other groups such as Greenpeace have led the successful opposition, linking up groups in Patagonia with urban organization and social movements in Santiago.

Contrariety to the project has also been repeatedly expressed by the bishop of Aysén, Luis Infanti, who openly asked the government to take into account and reflect upon economic, energy related, political and sociocultural aspects of the project. He argued that the decision cannot only be based on economics and econometrics but needs to have a broader perspective. In 2014 he sent to the government a branch of araucaria, the word meaning "tree of free people", and therefore a symbol of peace and freedom.

The campaign has also jointly advocating for the scrapping of Hidroaysén and the withdrawal of the foreign companies with groups and organization in Spain and Italy, as Endesa and then Enel owned the majority of the project.

Mobilizers and campaigners have managed to agglutinate under Patagonia Sin Represas (PSR) lots of urgent issues in the country, ranging from energy debate to education and corruption. They advocate for a systemic change in Chilean politics and have built strong alliances with students (for example in the huge student mobilization in 2011) and artists (see the many events and concerts organized under the PSR banner).

On 10th June 2014, after 8 years of the campaign under the slogan Patagonia Sin Represas, the Bachelet government in Chile rejected the Hidroaysén project. The Committee of Ministers, the highest administrative authority of the country including the Minister of Environment, Health, Economy, Energy and Mining, Agriculture, and Tourism, evaluated 35 appeals filed by the Patagonia Defense Council, which were presented in response to the approval of the project’s Environmental Impact Assessment in May 2011, under the Piñera government. The reasons of the rejections were, among others, the absence of a regular resettlement plan for the affected communities and inhabitants of the region, poor assessment of environmental impacts and insufficient plan for the construction of the transmission lines.

Basic Data

NameHidroaysén hydroelectric project, Chile
ProvinceProvincia de Capitan Prat, Región de Aysén
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level

Source of Conflict

Type of Conflict (1st level)Water Management
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Dams and water distribution conflicts
Land acquisition conflicts
Water access rights and entitlements
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Specific CommoditiesLand

Project Details and Actors

Project DetailsFive hydroelectric plants. All together would have a capacity of 2,750 MW (production of 18,400 GWh/year).

The installation of more than 2,000 km of cabling and the construction of 6,000 pylons ranging in height from 50 to 70 metres.

Hidroaysen claims to have spent 300 million USD until 2014, the total busget is said to be 3.2 billion USD.
Project Area (in hectares)6,000
Level of Investment (in USD)3,200,000,000
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population90000
Start Date2005
Company Names or State EnterprisesTranselec
China National Water Resources and Hydropower Engineering Corp. from China
HidroAysen from Chile
Colbun from Chile
ENEL Group (Enel) from Italy
Endesa (Endesa) from Spain - Since 2009, Endesa has been bought by the Italian company ENEL. In Hidroaysén, Enel-Endesa own 51% of the project.
Relevant government actorsSEC (Superintendencia de Electricidad y Combustibles), SIC (Sistema Interconectado Central), CONAMA (Comisión Nacional del Medio Ambiente), Government of Chile, CONAF (Corporación Nacional Forestal)
International and Financial InstitutionsBrookfield Asset Management from Canada
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersPatagonia sin Represas, Fundación Futuro Aysén, Greenpeace, Ecosistemas O.N.G., OLCA, International Rivers, Consejo de Defensa de la Patagonia, Coalition of Citizens for Aysen Life Reserve, Defenders of the Patagonia Spirit, The community of Villa O'Higgins, Council of Canadians, Re:Common (ex Campagna per la Riforma della Banca Mondiale-CRBM)

The Conflict and the Mobilization

Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginPREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups MobilizingSocial movements
Informal workers
Local ejos
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local government/political parties
Religious groups
Recreational users
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Fisher people
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of MobilizationDevelopment of a network/collective action
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Shareholder/financial activism.
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
The Council of Canadians launched a campaign aimed at stopping Canadian pension funds from destroying Patagonia Re:Common with Fondazione Banca Etica started financial activism in order to take part to the ENEL shareholders assembly with representatives of concerned communities for denouncing the impacts of Hidroaysén.
Lots of concerts and music/artistic events have been organized in support of the campaign.
Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Development of alternative proposals
Official complaint letters and petitions


Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Air pollution
OtherAll impacts are potential as works never started
Health ImpactsPotential: Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
OtherAll impacts are potential as works never started
Socio-economic ImpactsPotential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
OtherCorruption has been alleged (some decision-makers are shareholders of Endesa, for instance)


Project StatusStopped
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCorruption
Court decision (undecided)
Strengthening of participation
Under negotiation
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Project temporarily suspended
Development of AlternativesPatagonia Sin Represas has always advocate for a systemic change in the energy production model in Chile. Non-conventional sources of energy (Energías Renovables No convencionales - ERNC) are one of the possible way out towards a real transition. This will also entail a reduction in consumption from the demand side, getting rid of a purely extractivist economy and the colonial past.

Chilean economy should gradually shift towards the third sector and invest more and more in education and service.
Do you consider this as a success?Yes
Why? Explain briefly.After 8 years of the campaign under the slogan Patagonia Sin Represas, the Bachelet government in Chile rejected the Hidroaysén project on 10th June 2014. Members of Patagonia Sin Represas in Chile and abroad have welcomed the announcement with great joy and well aware that this is the first step of a hill-up road towards a paradigm shift.

Sources and Materials


Decree Law 654

Law No. 1122 of 29.10.1981. El Código de Aguas

Code of Responsible Conduct. Promoted by the Chilean Government to regulate public and private investment in indigenous areas has already drawn resistance

Article 28 of Law 19300. Related with "Community Participation in the Environmental Impact Assessment Process" page. 13

Law 20017. Created a royalty or tax applicable to owners of non-consumptive and continuous water rights who fail to utilize the waters. Specifically, the tax applies when owners fail to build infrastructure works to capture and restitute the waters. Law 20,017 provides that if the taxes are not paid, the courts may order the public auction of the respective water rights.

Law 19300 or the Environmental Framework Law, provides the basis for the organisation of environmental laws in Chile. It establishes the regulatory framework for environmental activity in Chile such as the environmental impact assessment system (EIAS), liability for environmental damage, air and water quality and emission standards, and pollution prevention and decontamination plans, among others.


Conflictos Ambientales en Chile. San Martín Saavedra, Pablo. Olca. 1997

Represas. La lucha contra los Modernos Dinosaurs. World Rainforest Movement. 2003

Conflictos Ambientales: una oportunidad para la Democracia. Padilla, Cesar, San Martin, Pablo. Ed. Olca - IEP. 1995

La Entropia del Capitalismo, JP Orrego


Patagonia sin represas, 2010, Representantes De La Campaña Irrumpen en la junta de Enel en Italia contra HidroAysén

CNN, Chile

Ecosistemas, 2014, HidroAysén decide aplazar proyecto hasta el próximo año

The Council of Canadians, 2011, Canadian pension funds quietly profit from destruction and oppression in Chile

Library of Congress, Legislation on Use of Water in Agriculture: Chile

Latin Layer, Environment - Chile

La Tercera, 2010, Colbún: Construcción de Hidroaysén podría comenzar a fines de 2012

Ecosistemas, 2014, Senadores y dirigentes de Patagonia sin Represas: Solicitan rechazo de HidroAysén a Ministro Badenier

Decision adjourned by government of Chile in June 2014

News in 2014 from bishop of Aysen, Luis Infanti

Senators Girardi and Horvath against the project

Instituto Nacional de Derechos Humanos (INDH), Hidroaysén

El desconcierto; Política energético-ambiental del ¿nuevo ciclo?

Agredecimientos a todos los miembros de PSR y activistas por Ecosistemas

Senators De Urresti and Girardi against the project

Media Links

Documental: Patagonia Chilena Sin Represas (2/5)

Marcelo Viñas (biólogo y documentalista)


Documental: Patagonia Chilena Sin Represas (4/5)

Marcelo Viñas (biólogo y documentalista)


Documental: Patagonia Chilena Sin Represas (1/5)

Marcelo Viñas (biólogo y documentalista)



Documental: Patagonia Chilena Sin Represas (3/5)

Marcelo Viñas (biólogo y documentalista)


Documental: Patagonia Chilena Sin Represas (5/5)

Marcelo Viñas (biólogo y documentalista)


Lucciole per Lanterne, by Stefano e Mario Martone


Other Documents

Mobilization against the Hydroaysen dam project

Meta Information

ContributorLucie Greyl and Daniela Del Bene
Last update29/12/2015



Mobilization against the Hydroaysen dam project