Energy cooperative Coneléctricas has received the OK from the Technical Secretariat of the Environment Ministry (SETENA) to begin construction of a hydroelectric project on the Peñas Blancas River, in the remote area of Pocosol in the Northern Zone.
According to Patricia Campos, head of SETENA, Coneléctricas received permission to begin the Pocosol project in December. However, a group of area residents filed an appeal listing a number of complaints against the project, including environmental concerns. According to Daniel Montero, a SETENA lawyer, the Secretariat rejected each of the complaints in a resolution released May 29.
Coneléctricas General Manager Carlos Rodríguez told The Tico Times construction could begin on the $46.5 million project in early August. The energy from the project would go to the four cooperatives that form Conélectricas and the 120,000 clients they represent, Rodríguez said.
Coneléctricas cooperatives are in San Carlos, in north-central Costa Rica; in Santa Cruz, in the northwestern province of Guanacaste; in the area of Los Santos, south of San José; and near Zarcero, in north-central Costa Rica between San Ramón and Ciudad Quesada.
Power from the 26-megawatt dam would not come online until 2008, he said. Critics of the dam have said that preliminary work by the company has already caused damage to the ecosystem and also alleged some of the work has overlapped onto private property. Residents also say that the river has already suffered irreparable damage from other hydroelectric dams (TT, June 11, 2004).
The release of sediment in 2003 from the Costa Rican Electricity Institute’s Peñas Blancas Hydroelectric Dam, downriver from the Pocosol site, resulted in the asphyxiation of thousands of fish on both the San Ramón and Peñas Blancas rivers, for which the institute has offered to pay $1 million in compensation (TT, Feb. 20, 2004).
Area property owners are also concerned because the project is near two renowned private nature reserves. The Peñas Blancas River starts in the world-famous Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve, 35 kilometers to the west. An additional 22,000 hectares of adjacent land is protected within the Children’s Eternal Forest international conservation project.
Rodríguez said that, though there is always an impact when carrying out such projects, the company’s environmental impact studies approved by SETENA show Coneléctricas will try to minimize the effects of any potential damage.
“I feel the country needs electric energy that is generated with renewable resources – clean energy, which will allow us to reduce our dependence on imported petroleum,” Rodríguez said.