SANTIAGO, Chile, Jan. 17 (UPI) -- Chilean President Sebastian Pinera says the country's energy outlook is likely to get worse before it gets better.
Within three years, Pinera warned energy industry leaders, the country's burgeoning economic growth and urbanization would generate "serious problems" as a 6-7 percent annual surge in demand outstrips supply.
Over the next two decades, however, this imbalance in energy demand and supply is projected to even out as new planned capacity goes into full swing, the president said.
Despite the mixed message, Pinera's immediate challenge is now. Critics say he has alienated large portions of the population through policies that have little to do with energy but are beginning to impact on everything the president does.
The thorniest issue facing Pinera is youth fury over what critics see as inadequate action on frequently pledged reforms in education, seen to be benefiting a tiny privileged class and upper middle-income groups at the expense of vast majority of young Chileans who want better conditions for university education.
Student protests over the education controversy threaten to become a potent mix when coinciding with community and environmental groups' unhappiness over the government's energy development plans in pristine nature zones in Patagonia, southern Chile.
Two proposed hydroelectric energy projects in the Aysen region of Patagonia have drawn international protests, as well as accusations of conflicts of interests between the projects, the president and other government aides.
In an address to energy business leaders Pinera took pains to explain the power generation plans wouldn't "exploit the riches of Patagonia."
Many local communities are dissatisfied with a lack of transparency about the energy deals and are worried over the potential damage the projects could cause to the area, The Santiago Times said.
The dams will generate electricity for Chile's national grid to meet demands in the more populous and industrial north but Patagonian residents say they want stronger commitments on economic development in the area.
"We need to substantially improve our capacity and technology with transmission lines in order to ensure supply and easy access to all energy generators," Pinera said.
Protesters say the transmission lines will ruin Patagonia's scenic beauty and will cause other problems.
Pinera has sought to assuage popular sentiment with a broad sweep of internationalism. He said he was seeking greater regional integration and was in talks with Argentina, Colombia and Peru on joint energy projects.
Chile was a poor country when it used "energies of the past," such as fossil fuels, gas, oil and coal, Pinera told his audience. Now, he said, he looks to a country that is "immensely rich in the energies of the future," a reference to the hydroelectric projects and a program for encouraging the use of other forms of renewable energy.
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