Argentina: Santa Cruz River Hydroelectric Complex
Formerly known as the Kirchner–Cepernic Hydroelectric Complex and then the Cóndor Cliff–Barrancosa Hydroelectric Complex, the Santa Cruz River Hydroelectric Project comprises two dams on the Santa Cruz River in Argentina. It is led by Represas Patagonia, a temporary consortium between China Gezhouba Group Company Limited (which has a 70% stake in the company), Hidrocuyo S.A. (Argentina), and Electroingenieria S.A. (Argentina). The third most important hydroelectric plant in Argentina and the most expensive to be financed and built by Chinese entities outside China, the project is being built around the third-largest ice expanse in the world, impacting communities in the area and the fragile Patagonian ecosystem.
Project Impacts and Controversies
- Employment and Labour Rights: The project is estimated to employ 5,500 people during the construction period (no information is available about whether these are Chinese or local workers). Once complete, the Hydroelectric Complex will employ only 108 people for operations, maintenance, and management. There have been several reports of controversies related to labour rights, especially during the pandemic.
- Environment: The site is a natural ecosystem of high preservation value and the project has the potential to push to extinction the endangered, endemic Macá tobiano (Hooded grebe), which lives in the area. The project EIA was undertaken in a rush by Serman y Asociados—a firm that not only had questionable ties to the authorities in charge of the evaluation of the project, but also wrote an EIA that lacked key information and a deep analysis of the environmental impacts.
- Land: The dams are expected to flood more than 47,000 hectares of land. Indigenous groups say the project’s location falls within their sacred lands.
- Local Community: The project does not require people to be resettled, however, the construction will impact 14 indigenous communities in Santa Cruz, especially the Comunidad Mapuche Tehuelche de Lof Fem Mapu in Puerto Santa Cruz, which is in the direct area of the project.
- Governance and Financing: As discussed in the background section, there has been a lack of transparency in the tendering process. Criticisms also focus on the fact the financing contract signed with the CDB for the dams is linked to the financing of the Belgrano Cargas Railway through a cross-default clause according to which cancelling one project could stop the financing for the other—despite the fact the two developments are unrelated.