Due to a Mapuche conflict, an energy investment is stopped in Río Negro

October 17, 2018 - By Rachel Eickhoff

The millionaire project of a wind farm in Cerro Alto, a remote and deserted place of Rio Negro, was suspended because the investment company did not reach an agreement with a small Mapuche community based in the area where the wind turbines were going to be erected.

The Chinese company Envision Energy SA had agreed an investment of USD 56.7 million in Cerro Alto, located 85 kilometers from Bariloche, when in 2016 it won the tender in the first round of the RenovAr. The wind farm included 28 wind turbines capable of producing two mega each. He also promised to provide work to 300 workers for 600 days. The energy was going to be injected into the High Voltage Line that goes to the largest tourist city in the province.

In a meeting last April in the countryside, the members of the Wefu Wechu community, composed of some 20 members, divided between Paso Flores, Corralito and Cerro Alto, asked the government officials of Alberto Weretilneck to manage before the company a 32 kw line down to provide electricity to its residents.

The Mapuches conditioned their “consent” to the project to realize this parallel line. According to the International Convention 169 of the ILO on Indigenous Peoples it is not possible to go over the decision of the aboriginal communities when the business projects touch their ancestral lands. For the Mapuches Cerro Alto is imbued with a special “energy”. For what is required of an aboriginal ceremony that makes feasible its use for productive purposes, the indigenous referents would have explained to the provincial authorities and to the representatives of the oriental company.

But the company was reluctant to make the electricity drop due to the extra cost, estimated at USD 500 thousand, and the delays it would cause in the main agenda. Promises to install compensatory lines at later dates did not convince Wefu Wechu members that they lowered their thumbs to the Chinese landing.

Provincial sources told Clarín that in addition to the electricity drop the Mapuches would have demanded cash to agree the installation of the wind farm. “They wanted their slice and they told Weretilneck. It happened the same as in Vaca Muerta where the surface receive a silver. The provincial government sent them to speak directly with the company and they got tired of the orders, “said the source with first-hand access to the plot of the conflict.

To these delays, linked to the unexpected negotiations with the Mapuches, was added the delay of the World Bank Guarantees, a condition required by the Board of Directors of the company to mitigate the risks of the landing in Argentina. The Orientals have similar projects in “García del Río” (Buenos Aires), “Vientos del Secano” (Buenos Aires) and “Los Meandros” (Neuquén). In Neuquén they also warned that they are going out of time.

“They have problems with the Mapuches, they were asked to make a line of 32 and the company did not want to, and the province did not help that much either,” said a Nación energy source. “They also delayed because they have projects in Mexico and they put much more focus there,” they added.

According to the agreement, the Cerro Alto park must have been providing energy in March 2019, something that will not happen. Through the Ministry of Energy, the Government of Mauricio Macri imposed a USD 10 million fine on the company for the failure.

According to Clarín, the managers sent a letter last week to the Secretary of Energy of Río Negro, where they explain that they decided to “redirect” the work, most likely to Neuquén. National sources confirm that the fine will continue. “They do not reach the date of commercialization,” they explain.

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