Following protest marches and the death of one protestor last week, the government today is sending a commission to the La Convencion province in Cusco, to establish a work agenda “with the greatest goodwill and an open mind.”
The commission is led by the minister of Agriculture, Juan Manuel Benites, who is travelling with the deputy ministers of the Environment, Agriculture, Energy and Mines, and officials from the Ministry of Interior, the Comptroller General’s office, the Anti-Corruption authorities and the Public Ombudsman’s office.
“There are a series of points we will be covering in detail. What we want at this time is to listen to arguments, find out what the reasons and concerns are, and if we do in fact have the full information,” said Benites. The commission plans to schedule a series of talks and meetings over the next several weeks.
La Convención communities have a list of 16 different issues to be discussed with the government. These vary from the defense of the once-strong tea industry against the low prices of imported tea leaves, to supervision of the use of gas canon funds by municipal governments, and also the demand to build a gas fractionating plant in the province so that they can stop paying the highest rates in the country for gas (S/.41 per domestic gas cylinder, compared with S/.38 in Lima).
Santa Teresa II Hydro Plant
One of the key issues is the demand to stop plans to build the 268 MW Santa Teresa II hydroelectric plant in La Convencion, to be operated by Luz del Sur, majority owned by Sempra Energy. Luz del Sur won the bid for the government project in 2010, and is expected to invest $160 million. The feasibility studies are scheduled to be ready in 2015.
Authorities in Santa Teresa have been fighting against the plant since early last year, and met in June 2013 with government energy and environment officials to suspend the hydroelectric concession.
“There are other alternatives that do not affect farming, water resources and the people of Santa Teresa. We’re not opposed to investment, but it cannot be made at the expense of the environmental balance of the area,” said Luis Ochoa, president of the Santa Teresa defense group.
The project does not require a dam and instead is to take the water discharged from the Machu Picchu hydro station and channel it towards a loading chamber and long a 14km pressure tunnel. The hydraulic system of the station has been designed for a water flow of 61 cubic meters per second, to generate 90.7 Mw of power.
“The reduction in groundwater, as a result of building this tunnel, will mean that farming in these areas will be seriously affected,” said former Environment minister Ricardo Giesecke. He said it could not be a question of investors benefitting from so many megawatts at the expense of people who just plant “little crops.”
“The issue is not that simple,” Giesecke said. “Their main and only source of income is at play here.”
Alfredo Novoa, president of the Peruvian Renewable Energy Association APER, agrees in the damage to local farmers.
The project “would leave 12,000 Cusqueños who live near the banks of this river without water for eight months of the year,” Novoa said, adding that the tunnel would cross the buffer zone of the Machu Picchu National Park, dry up the thermal baths at Colcamayo and damage the Inca Trail.
“The project is not sustainable,” Novoa said.