* CEO criticizes government delay in reviewing project
* HidroAysen seeks to provide 2,750 megawatts
* Patagonia project criticized on environmental grounds
SANTIAGO, Jan 12 The mega HidroAysen hydropower
complex's first plant will not be ready before 2022, four years
later than previously planned, due to a Chilean ministerial
group's "delay" in reviewing the controversial project,
HidroAysen's CEO was quoted as saying on Saturday.
Uncertainty surrounding the 2,750 megawatt, $3.2 billion
investment also means its planned transmission line probably
won't be submitted for environmental approval this year, Daniel
Fernandez told local newspaper La Tercera.
"Today, there's a lot of uncertainty, we don't have the
conditions to present (the transmission line)," Fernandez was
quoted as saying. "In the original program, we were meant to
have started works already. We're not doing it because without a
transmission line we're not going to take the risk. The first
plant was planned for 2018, and today it is hard for it to be
ready before 2022."
The complex planned in pristine Patagonia has faced stiff
opposition by environmentalists who have brought it to a special
ministerial group to be reviewed. Opponents have slammed the
project for its plans to flood large swaths of unspoiled land
and have charged it will hurt the environment and tourism.
The joint venture between leading generator Endesa Chile
and partner Colbun is seen as key source of
future energy supply in world No.1 copper producer Chile, whose
power production has been hit by underinvestment, unclear
regulations and droughts.
The entire HidroAysen complex had been expected to be
operational by 2025.
Uncertainty over Chile's plans to build a public
transmission line have also led HidroAysen to slow work on its
own transmission projects as it awaits further clarity on the
government's project, Fernandez said.
Chile is failing to take a firm hand in regulating its
mining and energy industries, leaving billions of dollars' worth
of projects exposed to the risk of lawsuits by local
The government faces mass protests as Chileans demand a
bigger share of copper earnings, and some critics charge that a
regulatory vacuum has emerged, allowing opposition groups to
jeopardize approved plans for hydropower projects in the South,
thermoelectric plants across the country and major copper mines
high in the Andes.
"What we want is for once and for all that the project be
seen as a priority, that complaints be resolved, so that we know
how to go forth with the project," Fernandez added.
"The system so far hasn't become more vulnerable, but if
there are droughts, or if the transmission line issues become
very hot, or if a plant collapses, then we're going to have
vulnerability in the system, potentially (power) cuts, and any
expert can tell you that 2016 is the crisis point," he said.