Chao Los Robles: Chilean Citizens Movement Celebrates Coal Plant Victory

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by Aviva Imhof

Communities living along central Chile’s scenic Maule coast are celebrating the collapse of the proposal to build the Los Robles coal-fired power plant. On January 26 the permit authorising construction of the plant expired, effectively cancelling the project. Under Chilean law, companies have five years from the date of approval of the environmental impact assessment to commence construction on a project. As AES Gener, a subsidiary of giant US independent power producer AES, had failed to commence construction on the project, their right to develop it has expired.

In a symbolic act, the Citizens Action for the Defense of the Maule Coast held a vigil to celebrate the death of the Los Robles coal plant after their epic seven-year struggle. They held a big bonfire that was fuelled by rubble remaining from the massive 2010 earthquake and tsunami whose epicentre was located in Maule.

Rodrigo de la O, convenor of the Maule Itata Coastkeeper. and a member of the Waterkeeper Alliance, said “for us, it’s a special day, hard to believe, but an important, historic day without doubt. The community was organised, was active and was emphatic in defining their own development path.  Our victory is due to the importance of a more empowered society that demands more space to advocate for their own interests and for the preservation of our natural heritage for future generations.”

The 750 megawatt  Los Robles was first proposed in 2007. At this time a spontaneous, diverse citizens movement was formed to fight the project, consisting of local residents, fisherfolk, tourism operators, local NGOs, tourists and temporary residents. The mayors of nearby municipalities and parliamentarians also participated in the campaign to stop the project at various times.

Forming the Citizens Action for the Defense of the Maule Coast, the group pioneered the use of social networks and the internet as campaign tools. They added new and diverse voices to the campaign, produced publications, organised marches, caravans and massive demonstrations of all types.noatlr11 copy

They learnt about coal and the full coal life cycle and used that to educate citizens about coal pollution, the health problems associated with the plants, and the possible impacts on fisheries and water resources. They submitted more than 600 comments on the environmental impact assessment, causing delays in the project approval process. Legal actions were also launched against the project.

Ultimately, and probably in large part due to the citizens opposition, AES decided to abandon the project. Citizens Action for the Defense of the Maule Coast is celebrating a well-deserved victory this week, and we should join them by saying #chaolosrobles