Chinook salmon were introduced to southern South America about 25 years ago to be farmed, but they have not surprisingly escaped, and have now established themselves in the streams of Chile. This will cause unknown ecological consequences to Chile, but it also shows how resilient salmon can be in establishing a population in a new environment–a lesson that indicates that if the river environments of the western US can be restored, that the salmon population could also recover.
Category Archives: Chile
When I was in Santiago I was interviewed by El Mercurio, and fully two-thirds of the questions were on the future of nuclear energy in Chile. Apparently Arriva (EDFs nuclear venture), GE, and Westinghouse are trying to sell nuclear power plants, as well as Russians trying to sell old subs that could be towed to Chile and plugged into the grid. Nuclear energy, in the near term, seems like a long-term prospect anywhere, but especially long-term in Chile, who has gone to an extremely market-oriented approach to electricity planning and investment. Given Chile’s aversion to subsidies and government intervention, I just can’t imagine a private company undertaking the risks of building a nuclear plant. But nuclear still dominates the electricity discussion in Santiago, for unknown reasons.
It’s also important to remember the MIT study on the Future of Nuclear Power from 2003, in which they concluded nuclear power would only make economic sense with very high carbon taxes (or equivalent). We may well get to high carbon prices, but to think nuclear would compete in among today’s supply and demand-side choices is looney.
UPDATE: Joe Romm has published Part 2 in his assessment of nuclear power:
– Nuclear power, Part 2: The price is not right
I’m in Santiago, finishing a three day stay that included speaking at a four-country energy conference, and many meetings with energy policy and industry people in Chile. Very stimulating, and I see positive signs for Chile’s energy future, though there are still many difficult issues to face.
One thing I really enjoyed was giving my talk to the PPEE (Chilean energy efficiency office) staff on thursday afternoon. They are a small but dedicated group (pictured here), and they are an important hope for Chile–these are my people…
Another highlight was staying at the Ambassador’s residence for three nights. He had invited me to speak at the conference, which included inviting me to stay at his home. We had one great evening together talking about his experiences in the State Department, but then he had to leave for Southern Chile–leaving me alone in a 12,000 sq foot house. Quite a strange experience.
Flickr photos here.
There is an article in today’s NYT about the pollution and sick fish caused by the way salmon is farmed in Chile (Salmon Virus Indicts Chile’s Fishing Methods). I had heard complaints about this from my environmentalist friends when I was in Chile last year. I don’t understand fish farming, but can easily believe it’s not benign since it’s yet another application of industrial techniques to food production, a la Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma. Here’s a picture of salmon farms I took as I took off from Puerto Montt last year on my way south to Patagonia–looks like a plume of pollution streaming from the pens…
Update 4/16/08 (NYT): Safeway the third-largest supermarket chain in America, has restricted some purchases of farm-raised Chilean salmon over concern about a virus that is killing millions of fish there.
The supermarket chain decided late last month to stop buying from its Chilean supplier, Marine Harvest, because Infectious Salmon Anemia, or the I.S.A. virus, was “impacting the quality of the product,” Brian Dowling, a Safeway spokesman, said this week. Mr. Dowling said the virus, which does not pose a risk to humans, was nevertheless affecting the size of the salmon, “which impacts the quality and the taste.”
I was very fortunate to be able to take a four day trip to Aysén. I flew with Daniela Castro to Cohaique, and then we drove the 300 km to Cochrane. The photo above is of a narrows in Lago General Carrera, not far from where the lake drains into the Baker River. More photos in my Aysén flickr photo set.
In Cochrane they had a one day energy seminar on the proposed dams and there impacts on the region. I gave a talk about energy efficiency, and got to express my doubts about the very high forecasted electricity demand growth rate (6.5%/year) and the need for the dams.
Here is a panorama view taken at the entrance to Estancia Villa Chaccobucco, overlooking the confluence of the Baker and Chacabucco Rivers–which is the site of the first Baker River dam.
Here is a short side-bar article I did for a book that Doug Tompkins is publishing soon. It will be a photo collection of Patagonia, with images of dams and electricity transmission lines superimposed on the landscape, with side-bars on environmental and energy issues:
“The Aysén projects will be the most costly projects undertaken in Chile, and will pose significant economic risks that will result in higher electricity prices and lower economic growth. The need for the dams is driven by a forecast of future demand for electricity that is extraordinarily high—6.5% per year for the next 10 to 20 years. Growth rates this high are questionable because high growth rates inevitably lead to higher electricity rates, which then reduces demand.
This is what happened in California in the 1970s and 80s. Electricity use in California was growing at about 7% per year in the early 1970s. To meet this demand, and to reduce the use of oil for generating electricity, utilities were planning on building 10 to 20 nuclear plants. Instead, California instituted aggressive efficiency standards and programs, which combined with higher electricity prices reduced demand growth to 2% year. By 1990, 75% of California’s electricity needs had been met with energy efficiency, and the remaining 25% had been met with efficient natural gas-fired cogeneration and renewables. To accomplish this, California used an “integrated resource planning” process to evaluate all the options, and chose those that were cleanest and cheapest.
Chile needs to create a similar planning process, or face a future that includes both higher electricity prices and serious environmental degradation in the Aysen. Based on my review of what little data is publicly available I found:
• The commonly quoted demand forecasts of 6.5% per year growth (or 5.5% “with efficiency”) is highly questionable. The only basis for the forecast seems to be that “the future will be like the past,” but this is not likely as electricity prices increase and efficiency options are exploited.
• The $1,000/kW capital cost estimate for the dams is certainly far below what actual costs will be. The San Roque Dam in the Philippines, comparable in size to the proposed Aysén dams and completed in 2004, cost US$1.2 billion and produced 345 MW, or US$3,500/kW. The Itaipu Dam in Brazil, completed in 1991, had a cost of US$20 billion for 12,600 MW, or US$1,600/kW. Based on the experiences of similar dams, and the review by the World Commission on Dams, it is easy to conclude that the Aysén hydro projects will cost 2 to 3 times what is currently forecast, or 12-18 cents/kWh.
An integrated resource plan for Chile would certainly reveal that there are cheaper and cleaner options to meet Chile’s need for energy.”
Here’s a graphic view of the problem. The graph of U.S. and California per capita electricity use has been seen in many talks, and in the New York Times and the Economist. I’ve added the historical and projected data for Chile–showing that while Chile is currently about one-third of California per capita electricity use, their forecast is that they will pass California in about 12 years! This fortunately is very unlikely, but if it were to occur the consequences would be very negative for the Chilean economy and environment.