* Chile committee orders more studies on project
* Controversial HidroAysen remains in limbo
* Center-left Bachelet says project not viable as is
SANTIAGO, Jan 30 A special Chilean ministerial
committee said on Thursday that more studies of Patagonian
energy project HidroAysen were needed, essentially deferring the
final decision on whether it should proceed to incoming
President Michelle Bachelet.
The 2,750 megawatt hydropower joint venture between leading
generator Endesa Chile and partner Colbun, a
political hot potato, has been in limbo for months, much to the
frustration of both investors and environmentalists.
Center-left Bachelet has called the $8 billion-plus project
"unviable" as it stands, suggesting it could be rejected once
she takes office on March 11.
HidroAysen said in a statement it was awaiting "clear
information" from authorities before issuing an opinion.
Opponents, who slam the venture's plans to flood large
swaths of unspoiled land and say it would hurt the environment
and tourism in the pristine Southern region, brought the
approved project to the ministerial group for review.
The requested additional studies could take up to a year to
be ready, the head of the SEA environmental evaluation service
Ricardo Irarrazabal said.
"The government of President Sebastian Pinera astutely
doesn't want to pay the political cost of building HidroAysen,"
said energy specialist Raul Sohr, who wrote an influential book
about Chile's energy woes.
"HidroAysen isn't completely dead, but costs will rise as
construction is delayed and demands are piled on. In the end, it
could be economic calculations and not political protests that
Still, others in the market say tinkering with the project
could redeem it at a time when energy-strapped Chile is craving
"The project isn't dead," said Sergio Zapata, senior energy
analyst with CorpGroup.
Tweaks, which could for instance include subsidizing power
in the remote Aysen region, could render the investment viable
once again, he said.