Chinese-built dams in Argentina poised to spur local economy

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EL CALAFATE – Two Chinese-built dams in southern Argentina are poised to provide not just additional energy, but also a boost to the local economy.

The 1,140 megawatt (MW) Nestor Kirchner, and the smaller dam, the 600MW Jorge Cepernic, are located some 2,750 km south of the capital Buenos Aires.

Currently under construction in the country’s Patagonia region, the dams are already spurring local economy with added business for hotels, transportation firms and other service providers.

Mariano Musso, director of Institutional Relations at Grupo Electroingenieria, part of the construction consortium led by China’s Gezhouba and Argentina’s Hidrocuyo, said the Nestor Kirchner Dam in Santa Cruz province will offer “dynamism to the Argentine economy as it activates many industries with the materials and goods it requires.”

“It will also spur employment,” said Musso, adding that the project is estimated to generate “some 6,000 direct jobs at its peak and some 10,000 indirect jobs.”

The preliminary phase of the Nestor Kirchner Dam, which includes geological and geotechnical studies to determine where the main facilities will be erected, began in February, said Colombia-born Nestor Ayala, head engineer of the project.

In two weeks, he added, “we are going to launch the initial excavation work where the floodgates to the (Santa Cruz) river will go.”

Walter Cattaneo, an architect and head of the civil engineering work that went into setting up an on-site camp for the workers, highlighted the amount of manpower and services a project of this magnitude requires.

“Today, 150 people live here on a permanent basis, but some 400 suppliers, including a medical outfit, nursing staff, and production teams, also come and go,” he said.

“In the future, we will build a village for 3,000 to 3,500 people, with the capacity to accommodate up to 4,000,” Cattaneo noted.

Most of the workers are local residents, people already adapted to the cold and harsh living conditions of this inhospitable place not far from the Antarctic.

According to Cattaneo, some 80 percent of them are from the town of El Calafate, the closest city to the project site, while managers and technicians come from different places.

Heavy machinery is being shipped to Santa Cruz Port, and transported by land to the site, where “it is assembled under the supervision of Chinese engineers dispatched by the manufacturers of the equipment,” explained the architect.

There are Argentine engineers alongside their Chinese counterparts, while workers doing the assembly are both Chinese and Argentinian, he said.

The two hydroelectric stations in this icy region of Argentina “are going to generate energy for the country’s development, and over the five and a half years of construction, impact the local economy,” said Musso.

Once completed, the two dams will provide four percent of the country’s annual energy needs, or about 5,000 gigawatt hours (GWh), supplying more than 1.5 million homes.

The Argentine government has earmarked more than $4.714 billion for the projects, with the help of Chinese firm Sinosure.

The projects are becoming a reality thanks to the “joining of forces” between the two governments, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez said in July, when some of the initial shipments of construction equipment arrived from China.

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