December 15, 2011

Scientists look to halt Chile’s newest wind farm

By Joe Hinchliffe, The Santiago Times, 14 December 2011

Critics are concerned about the population of endangered blue whales off the coast.

Leaders of the Center of Cetacean Conservation (CCC) and NGO Ecoceanos gathered at Chile’s presidential palace Wednesday morning with a petition bearing the signatures of over 40 international scientists urging President Sebastián Piñera to halt the construction of a wind farm in Chiloé approved in August.

“In the name of the international scientific community we request an environmental impact study for the project,” said CCC President Bárbara Galletti, who was accompanied by Juan Carlos Cárdenas, veterinarian and director of Ecoceanos, among others.

The group called on Piñera to “respect the impact” that the wind farm could have on the population of endangered blue whales, the largest animal ever known to have existed in modern times, and other animal species in the area.

The project consists of 56 wind towers of between 130 to 260 feet tall that will cover some 2,500 acres on the Mar Brava beach area, northwest of Chiloé’s capital city of Ancud.

With a generating capacity of around 112 megawatts (MW), the wind farm will farm exceed Chiloé’s total current energy demand of about 90 MW and turn the area into a renewable energy exporter.

But the environmental organizations are critical of the location of the wind farm, which they say could lead to an environmental disaster. The Mar Brava area is adjacent to the largest population of endangered blue whales in the Southern Hemisphere and is an important site for the southern right whale, which, with a population of less than 50, is in critical danger of extinction in Chilean waters.

Scientists are concerned about collisions with whales due to an increase of boat traffic, noise pollution that could interrupt the whales’ sonar communication system, and coastal contamination that could affect their feeding and reproductive cycles.

The group called for a full environmental impact study (EIA) after the initial approval was granted on the strength of a “mere” Declaration of Environmental Impact (DIA), that “ignored” the impact of the project on whale populations.

Under Chilean law all major industrial projects are subject to a DIA, and developments with more far-reaching consequences require a more rigorous EIA. This applies to projects that put the health of the population at risk, have adverse impacts on natural resources (including air and water quality), or are located “in or next to” “protected areas” and “priority places for conservation,” among other categories.

As well as requiring a more thorough investigation, environmental impact studies must propose solutions to mitigate any environmental problems it discovers (including relocation) and, more crucially, must publish its findings to the local community.

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