Belize - Belize News - Channel5Belize.com - Great Belize Productions - Belize Breaking News
Home » Environment » Ground broken on Chalillo hydro project
May 28, 2003

Ground broken on Chalillo hydro project

Story Picture
It was a low-key affair, organised with little fanfare and even less advance notice. But make no mistake: what took place today in a remote corner of the Mountain Pine Ridge marked–depending on who you choose to believe–either the beginning of a new era of energy independence, or the greatest environmental and economic disaster in Belizean history. But for the hundred or so dignitaries gathered this morning, the only controversy was over who would dig the first spade full of earth.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting

After countless hours in the courtroom, today the Chalillo Hydro Electric Project broke ground with full force.

Get a good look, because by December 2005, the water level of the Upper Macal River would have been raised some thirty-five metres, generating more than half of Belize’s energy needs.

Fortis Incorporated, majority shareholder of Belize Electricity Limited, has been trying to build this dam for more than five years.

Stan Marshall, President, Fortis

“For me it’s been a very unusual exercise in that’s a very small project in international terms, but it’s received such international attention that really if you look at it from the Fortis point of view, it probably wouldn’t have been worth our while. But it’s part of our commitment to this country, it’s very, very important to this country, much more important to Belize than it is to Fortis. So I’m delighted for the people of this country that we’re able to proceed today.”

Holding up the process were a series of legal actions brought on by environmental groups from Belize and Canada. The activists argued that Chalillo’s feasibility and environmental studies were inaccurate, and would do nothing more than needlessly destroy the habitats of several endangered species.

Janelle Chanona

“There might not have been any protestors at today’s ground breaking ceremonies, but Belize’s environmental movement was represented in the tracks of a tapir…a very big tapir.”

Stan Marshall

“All hydro-developments are developed in river valleys, which tend to be picturesque, tend to be diverse. And so if that were the only criteria, no one would develop hydro resources anywhere. But in places like Canada, where seventy percent of your power comes from hydro resources, so there’s always this trade-off between looking after your environment and economic development. And so all we can do is try to identify the sites that we think can be developed economically and with respect to the environment. But in the final analysis, it’s not my decision.”

No, that decision fell squarely on the shoulders of the Government of Belize.

John Briceño, Min. of Natural Resources/Environment

“Belize has been growing at a very rapid pace, just in electricity needs has been growing by over ten percent per year. And the only way we can do that is by having Chalillo and other forms of energy. Chalillo is not the only answer, we have many other things that we need to do, such as the cogeneration project that B.S.I. is promoting. We support that also, because we realise that Chalillo alone would not be enough.”

Janelle Chanona

“You are Minister of Natural Resources, that’s why you’re investing in that idea, you’re also Minister of Environment…what’s it been like, I know there have been several groups actively protesting this project, what’s it been like trying to appease both sides so to speak?”

John Briceño

“Well, look at our record, we have forty-two percent of our country under a protected area status, which country has done that. We have been doing our part, but we understand also that our people need electricity, we have to develop this country, we have to create more opportunities, we have to create more economic development in the country. And the only way we’re going to do this is by having a reliable and safe and renewable source of energy, which best uses our own natural resources.”

“It has really been Belizeans if you want to be very honest about this whole thing, so we do expect for them to continue to do that. I think what is sad about this whole thing is that these groups, they have thrown out through the window all the wonderful work that we have been doing in Belize. We have been doing our part in protecting the environment, but we also have to develop Belize, and Belizeans come first at the end of the day.”

But as the monopoly electricity company in Belize, can B.E.L. say whether rates will go up or down when Chalillo comes on stream?

Stan Marshall

“The thing we’ve always said is that electricity from this site will be lowest cost of any electricity in this country. So if we don’t develop it, electricity will be more expensive than if we do. So what happens in respect to pries is difficult to say fully, because it depends on other things. Not all electricity will come from this site, we’ll still have to generate electricity from other sources, so depending on the overall prices, there will be changes in electricity. But I think to be sure, you are and you listeners, is that this will make electricity prices lower than they otherwise would be…that is the guarantee.”

Chalillo will flood approximately three square miles, holding back approximately sixty billion gallons of water and will serve as a water storage facility for the Mollejon Hydro-Electric plant further down the Macal River.

Joseph Sukhnandan, Chalillo Project Manager

“We will release one meter cube per second, which is about half this water, all day. And then you would release how much water you need for Mollejon. So let us say it would vary during a typical day, if Mollejon needs all of it to keep Mollejon running at full capacity, you then release that amount. If it only needs half of it…because once you release it, you don’t have a storage of at Mollejon, so you’re gonna lose it. So what you will do, you will then manage the amount of water that you release here, and you’ll only release exactly how much you need at Mollejon.”

Lynn Young, C.E.O. Belize Electricity Limited

“But what we have to do over the next year or two is to study the river flows, because between here and Mollejon, there are other tributaries in the river and so you have to study these tributaries. If they are flooded, then you might not want to release as much water. If in dry season when those are very dry, we would have to release our water from here. So over time, we’re gonna learn how to manage it to get the best performance at Mollejon and the least environmental impact.”

Stan Marshall

“We’ll begin by building a small dam at the site here to allow us to work during the rainy season, to hold back some of the waters on one side of river bank to allow work on the main dam itself.”

B.E.L. hopes that the official start of the Chalillo Hydroelectric Project will mean an end to controversy that has inundated it since day one. Reporting from the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve for News 5, I am Janelle Chanona.

Opponents of the Chalillo project have vowed to appeal their case to the Privy Council in London.

Be Sociable, Share!


Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

Advertise Here

Leave a Reply

CAPTCHA Image
*