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ENERGY

Fishermen sink Spanish giant’s power plant plans

A court in Chile has halted the construction of a huge power plant being built by Spanish company Endesa, after fishermen charged it would harm the environment and ruin their livelihood.

The $1.4 billion Punta Alcalde plant in northern Chile was being built by the Madrid-based Endesa, Spain's leading electric utility.

The fishermen said the project would despoil the Llanos de Calle National Park and the Humboldt Penguin national reserve, both considered among Chile's natural treasures.

"This could compromise fishing industries resources, with repercussions for marine reserves and biodiversity in the region," Paula Villegas, an attorney for the fishermen, told the CNN Chile news network.

The fishermen were from the town of Huasco in Chile's Atacama region, about 800 kilometres north of the capital city Santiago.

The Punta Alcalde thermoelectric plant was being built to supply power to the region's huge copper mining concerns.

At present, six plants operate in the region, a number insufficient to provide enough power to the energy-hungry mining industry.

In a statement, Endesa defended the project as one of the most efficient in South America, and said the ruling did not definitively prevent construction of the plant.

A court in Santiago issued the order on Friday but it was not unsealed until Tuesday.

Regional environmental authorities had halted the project last year, but were overruled by federal officials who said construction could proceed if some changes were made.

Legal observers said if Endesa appeals the ruling, the case could make its way to Chile's Supreme Court.

A court in March 2012 rejected a similar project, the $4.4 billion Castilla thermoelectric power plant, which was to have been the largest in South America. That decision was upheld on appeal in August last year.

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ENVIRONMENT

Police operation targets illegal water tapping in Spain

More than 130 people were arrested or placed under investigation for illegal water tapping last year, Spain’s Guardia Civil police said on Wednesday following a huge operation.

Police said most of their operations took place “in fragile and vulnerable areas such as the Doñana natural park”
Police said most of their operations took place “in fragile and vulnerable areas such as the Doñana natural park” in Andalusia. Photo: CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP

During the year-long operation, “133 people were arrested or investigated for extracting water through more than 1,533 illegal infrastructure devices”, the police’s environmental unit said in a statement.

A similar operation in 2019 had targeted 107 people.

Spain is one of the European countries most at risk from the impact of drought caused by global warming, scientists say.

Water usage issues are often at the heart of heated political debates in Spain where intensive agriculture plays an important role in the economy.

Police said most of their operations took place “in fragile and vulnerable areas such as the Doñana natural park” in the southern Andalusia region, one of Europe’s largest wetlands and a Unesco World Heritage bird sanctuary.

They were also operating in “in the basins of Spain’s main rivers”.

In Doñana, police targeted 14 people and 12 companies for the illegal tapping of water for irrigation, a police spokesman said.

Ecologists regularly raise the alarm about the drying up of marshes and lagoons in the area, pointing the finger at nearby plantations, notably growing strawberries, which are irrigated by illegally-dug wells.

“The overexploitation of certain aquifers for many reasons, mainly economic, constitutes a serious threat to our environment,” the Guardia Civil said.

The European Court of Justice rapped Spain over the knuckles in June for its inaction in the face of illegal water extraction in Donana which covers more than 100,000 hectares (250,000 acres) and is home to more than 4,000 species, including the critically endangered Iberian lynx.

According to the government’s last official estimate, which dates back to 2006, there were more than half a million illegal wells in use.

But in a 2018 study, Greenpeace estimated there were twice as many, calculating that the quantity of stolen water was equivalent to that used by 118 million people — two-and-a-half times the population of Spain.

Spanish NGO SEO/Birdlife also on Wednesday raised the alarm about the “worrying” state of Spain’s wetlands.

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