Chile presidential favorite says HidroAysen project not viable

SANTIAGO Mon Jun 24, 2013 9:32am IST

Former Chilean president and former executive director of gender equality body U.N. Women Michelle Bachelet waves to her supporters at Santiago airport March 27, 2013. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

Former Chilean president and former executive director of gender equality body U.N. Women Michelle Bachelet waves to her supporters at Santiago airport March 27, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Ivan Alvarado

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chilean presidential favorite Michelle Bachelet said on Sunday night she is against the planned 2,750-megawatt HidroAysen hydropower project, suggesting the controversial complex still faces an uphill battle.

Bachelet, a popular center-leftist who served as president of the world's top copper-exporting nation from 2006 to 2010, is widely expected to win a November 17 presidential election against a weakened right-wing bloc.

"I'm not in favor of HidroAysen and I don't think it's viable," Bachelet said during a televised debate with three other presidential candidates vying for the left-wing bloc's nomination. "It shouldn't go forward," she added.

Chile's supreme court approved HidroAysen's five generating units, but environmentalists then brought the project to a special ministerial group for review.

Opponents slam HidroAysen on the grounds it would harm pristine Patagonia's environment and tourism.

Many analysts say the project, a political hot potato, is likely to remain in limbo until after the election.

HidroAysen, whose generating units alone were initially seen costing $3.2 billion, is now expected to require over $8 billion in investment, considering the transmission line, according to industry analysts.

Plans for a transmission line, which still have not been submitted to authorities, have also sparked public outrage over potential environmental harm.

Bachelet's position will likely ruffle miners, who are counting on the joint venture between leading generator Endesa Chile and partner Colbun as a key source of future energy supply in world No.1 copper producer Chile.

The Andean nation's power production has been hit by under investment, unclear regulations, a 2010 earthquake, and droughts.

Bachelet is the clear favorite ahead of the June 30 primary.

Jostling to be the right-wing candidate and former economy minister Pablo Longueira, a veteran party member who was close to ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet, and former defense minister Andres Allamand.

Conservative president Sebastian Pinera is barred from running for re-election.

(Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Michael Perry)

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