Mt Baker, Chile.

Mt Shuksan on Picture Lake at Mount Baker. IMG: via Shutterstock.

The Chilean government rejected an $8 billion dam proposal to meet the country’s growing energy demands. The decision came form Chile’s highest administrative authority, the Committee of Ministers, and cancelled an environmental permit to build five dams on the Baker and Pascua rivers in southern Chile that was originally granted back in 2011.

“These giant dams would have put at risk the wilderness, traditional culture, and local tourism economy of this remarkable region,” said Amanda Maxwell, from the USA-based Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), in a statement released by NGO International Rivers (IR). “Patagonia’s rugged and varied wilderness is truly an environmental treasure.”

After a three-hour meeting, Chile’s ministers of agriculture, energy, mining, economy and health voted unanimously to reject the project. The committee “decided to side with complaints presented by the community,” Environment Minister Pablo Badenier told reporters. “As of now, the hydroelectric project has been rejected.”

IR states that the approval process for the permit was “full of procedural irregularities and charges of misconduct,” and that HidroAysén has been subject to “an eight-year environmental campaign waged by the Patagonia Defense Council [and] a coalition of nearly 70 Chilean and international organizations.” The government has now “sided with the majority of Chileans, and 10s of 1000s of people around the world, who believe that large dams should not be built in Chile’s Patagonia,” it states.

The decision by the Committee follows a new energy policy publicized in mid-May by President Michelle Bachelet, who started a second term in March this year, pushing natural gas and renewable energy.