Chile and Brazil have both been in the news in recent weeks due to massive and controversial hydroelectric projects that have provoked heated debates and large-scale protests. Both countries are struggling with the delicate issue of how to balance the need for increased energy supplies to fuel modernizing and booming economies, with important environmental concerns in cherished parts of each country -- the Amazon in Brazil and Patagonia in Chile.
Like most people in emerging economies, Brazilians and Chileans are unwilling to renounce a modern lifestyle that increasingly demands access to reliable and affordable energy supplies. But the controversy surrounding the hydroelectric projects raises two questions. First, at what point does the cost of a modern lifestyle become too high? Second, how can policymakers in democracies balance the demands for a modern lifestyle with the need to protect their nations' environmental endowments?
In energy-starved Chile, the 2,750 megawatt project known as HidroAysen has long figured in national power planning projections. When completed at an estimated cost of more than $3 billion, the 5-dam complex is expected to supply approximately 21 percent of demand for Chile's central electric system, according to studies.