San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Rica inaugurates Pirrís dam amid protests

Costa Rica’s largest hydroelectric dam was inaugurated Monday in the Zona de Los Santos, 80 kilometers southeast of San José. Known as Pirrís, the 113-meter dam has a capacity to generate 134MW of electricity and provide power to an estimated 160,000 homes.

Construction of Pirrís took 10 years and required an investment of $627 million, which included investment from Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE), the Japan International Corporation Agency and the Central American Bank of Economic Integration. The dam has a capacity to process 30 million cubic meters of water through two large turbines.

“Pirrís is the culmination of an enormous challenge, given the complex construction and large financial, contractual, geologic and climatic obstacles that were faced during development,” said ICE President Teófilo de la Torre.

According to ICE, nearly 90 percent of electricity in Costa Rica is produced by clean energy sources. The Pirrís plant is expected to employ 3,000 people.

“We are closer every day to the goal of breaking our pernicious dependence on imported fuel derived from fuel,” said President Laura Chinchilla. “Not only does it drive production costs, but also the cost of living for the country.”

Pirrís Hydroelectric Plant

Protesters at the Pirrís hydroelectric plant.

Alberto Font

Despite the praise from Chinchilla and de la Torre, near the entrance to the dam, 100 protesters from the towns of San Carlos de León Cortés, Zapotal and Santa Ana crashed the inauguration. They carried signs announcing “Families left without homes,” “Ecological impact studies are needed,” and “We want our homes back.”

 Several local residents said they lost their homes during the dam’s construction, and that a community church had also been destroyed.

“There is always opposition to new energy projects, whether they are hydro, wind, geothermal or thermal,” Jay Gallegos, CEO of Mesoamerica Energy recently told The Tico Times. “You have to do exhaustive studies prior to any project and consider all possible effects such as potential environmental, social, financial and community problems that could occur. All developments usually come with some type of resistance, particularly hydro projects.”

Tico Times photographer Alberto Font contributed to this story

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