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Neltume hydroelectric project in Panguipulli, Chile


The provision of electricity in Chile is heavily dependent on foreign countries, particularly Argentina. Recently, important restrictions on natural gas exports from its neighbour together with an increase of domestic consumption has led the Chilean government to promote unconventional renewable energy (energía renovable no convencional - ERNC).

The Los Rios region is strategic for the state energy program; in the municipality of Panguipulli alone, around 10% of the national hydroelectric capacity is planned to be installed.

At least six hydropower projects are in the works by the Spanish company ENDESA and its new owner, the Italian company ENEL, along with Sn Power (Norway) in the region of Los Rios.

One of them will be built on the lake Neltume and will be carried out in three phases: the excavation of the diversion tunnel, the hydropower plant and the transmission lines. Up to now, only the first one has been cleared, while the other two are waiting for the EIA.

The power plant would make use of the waters of the Fuy River and empty into Lake Neltume (406 m jump), raising the lake’s level and also the temperature of the water. The project is in violation of the articles 2 and 7 of the OIL convention and the communities Inalafken, the regional indigenous Koz Koz parliament and the Mapuche organization Meli Wixan Mapu claim control over the local natural resources, water included.

The site is sacred for them, as it's a land where they perform important rituals and religious ceremonies and have cemeteries. Five Mapuche communities are opposed to the plant’s construction, although a group in the community of Juan Quintumán supports it; Endesa-Enel has reportedly given them money, construction materials for housing repairs, and livestock and feed.

In March 2013, the company tried to negotiate with the local Koz-Koz mapuche community in order to get their approval to go ahead with the contruction.

Jorge Weke (also spelled “Hueque”)–the werkén (spokesperson) for the local Koz Koz Parliament rejected the dialogue offer.

The consortium tried unsuccessfully to get approval for the project in February 2010 and again in December 2010, but there has still been no official decision on the plant. (Tierramérica-IPS 2/11/13 via Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO); Radio Bío Bío (Chile) 3/2/13) Actions against the project have been carried out both in Chile and in Spain, but also in Italy, as Enel bought Endesa in 2009. In April 2012 communities affected by ENEL projects in Latin America, Russia, Bulgaria and in Italy joined together to put pressure inside and outside the General Assembly of shareholders in Rome. Through activist shareholding with Rome-based NGOs (Fondazione Banca Etica and Re:Common), representatives of Mapuche communities participated in the shareholders meeting and had some minutes to denounce in front of all shareholders and the international press the impacts in the area and to urge for a rapid change of energy policy and of the company strategic plan for future projects [2]Their demands were to scrap unsustainable and harmful projects like coal plants and large hydropower plants and to change ENEL's strategic plan towards a small scale energy model.

After the recent elections in Chile, indigenous Mapuche communities have demanded the new government to change harmful energy planning in Chile and recognize communities' dignity in their lands and the right to live according to the “Kümey mongen”, the local word used for "Buen vivir" or "Good life".

These kind of projects are not new to the region. A dam operated by ENDESA, for example, was constructed in 1962 and is today operated by ENEL (after it bought Endesa in 2009) and while a small royalty is paid to the municipality, the local people have never received any compensation, despite the loss of 300 ha of land.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Neltume hydroelectric project in Panguipulli, Chile
State or province:Los Rios region, Valdivia
Location of conflict:Panguipulli
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Land acquisition conflicts
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific commodities:Land

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Plant potential: 490 MW

Average annual power generation: 1.885 GWh

El proyecto contempla la construcción de una bocatoma para captar las aguas del río Fuy, destinada a captar un caudal máximo de 140 m3/s, a aproximadamente 980 m. aguas abajo del nacimiento del río Fuy, las que luego serían conducidas mediante una obra de aducción subterránea, de aproximadamente 10 kilómetros de longitud, hasta la caverna de máquinas, la que sería también subterránea [1].

The energy produced by the plant will be directed to the Central Energy Grid (Interconectado Central).

Level of Investment:781,000,000
Type of populationRural
Company names or state enterprises:Endesa Chile from Chile
Sn Power from Norway
ENEL Group (Enel) from Italy
Relevant government actors:COREMA
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Comunidades Mapuche, Koz-koz Parliament, Re:Common, Fondazione Banca Etica, Rete STOP-ENEL, Corporación de Desarrollo Indígena (Conadi), Frente Ambientalista de Panguipulli (FAP)

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Public campaigns
Shareholder/financial activism.
Street protest/marches
Italian NOGs and a foundation have participated for some years in the General Assembly of shareholders of ENEL, in order to denounce the impacts and push for a change in the company's energy strategy.
Local communities have also had "mesas de dialogo" with the company.


Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Other Environmental impactsAll impacts are potential because the plant is not built yet. If constructed, all such impacts will surely occur.
Health ImpactsPotential: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Other Health impactsAll impacts are potential because the plant is not built yet. If constructed, all such impacts will surely occur.
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Specific impacts on women, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Other socio-economic impactsAll impacts are potential because the plant is not built yet. If constructed, all such impacts will surely occur.


Project StatusPlanned (decision to go ahead eg EIA undertaken, etc)
Conflict outcome / response:Criminalization of activists
Strengthening of participation
Under negotiation
Proposal and development of alternatives:The local communities question the alleged need of energy of the country. They denounce the "terror politics" implied by the company in term of energy emergency and the need to generate more.
They call for a "Consulta previa, libre, informada y de buena fé".
They also want to have the area suited for tourism activities and bring revenues for the local people.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:The population has mobilized and strengthened cooperation with national and international NGOs. Still, the project is still under negotiation and the government and company have not changed any plan.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

ILO Convention 169

Reglamento SEIA y nuevas negociaciones a respecto

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Defending Territory, Demanding Participation Mapuche Struggles in Chile, Diane Haughney

LOS PAISAJES DEL AGUA: NATURALEZA E IDENTIDAD EN LA CUENCA DEL RÍO VALDIVIA - Revista de Antropología Chilena Volumen 44, Nº 2, 2012. Páginas 299-312

Los Ríos: dirigentes mapuche aseguran que Endesa busca lavarse las manos con llamado a diálogo

Mapuches de Panguipulli exigen otro Estudio Ambiental a ENDESA para garantizar Consulta Indígena

Rete Stop ENEL, in Italian

On repression against Mapuche communities (in Spanish)

Trafún, comuna de Panguipulli: Menor herido por perdigón de carabineros (in Spanish)

Demanda colectiva del Pueblo Mapuche al Estado chileno: Reparación de territorios y Aguas

Marcha por el Agua, 2014 in Santiago del Chile


Chile: Hydroelectric projects threaten sacred Mapuche sites

Mapa de Conflictos hidroelectricos en Chile,-68.24707&spn=18.453171,39.506836&t=h&source=embed&dg=feature

Links to various articles and materials at the bottom: "Por conflicto Endesa: Emplazan al Estado Español a respetar Derechos Indígenas en América Latina"

[1] Mapas de conflictos en Chile

[2] Opositores a Neltume se manifiestan en junta de Endesa Enel en Italia

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Alcalde de Panguipulli, Alejandro Koehler presentó recurso de protección

Diálogo de Saberes, entrevistas 2

Cancion rap en favor de la campanya contra la represa "Patagonia sin represas, Panguipulli"

Diálogo de Saberes, entrevistas 3

Diálogo de Saberes, entrevistas 1

Message form Jorge Weke to Italian activists during the joint actions against ENEL's projects in the region Los Rios

Central Neltume ¿un nuevo Ralco?

Other comments:The plant in Panguipulli requires the construction of a transmission line (Línea de alta tensión Neltume-Pullinque), which has also generated conflicts. The INDH map reports about that [1].

Meta information

Contributor:Daniela Del Bene, ICTA-UAB
Last update18/08/2019