Ferrovial La ingeniería civil como arte: creatividad e innovación

Maule’s Hidden Water

Los Cóndores, Chile

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Under the watchful peaks of the Andes, time goes by differently. It must be the blood oxygen levels at altitude, or maybe it’s the isolation and loneliness.

Or the invisible presence of the condor, the largest bird in the world that can fly without flapping its wings. One thing is for certain: when the tunneler starts up, everything stops, and even the mountain seems to listen closely.

That is where the Maule River begins, in Chile near the lagoon of the same name. Some 2,200 meters above sea level, the land rises sharply to take advantage of the water’s energy. This is the site of the Los Condores hydroelectric plant. It will have a nameplate capacity of 150 MW, enough to supply power to 80,000 homes.

Construction on the plant moves forward without stopping some 360 kilometers south of the capital, Santiago – an hour’s drive from Talca near the Pehuenche pass, at the Andean border between Chile and Argentina. Most of the work isn’t visible, hidden deep in the belly of the mountain range. When finished, the only trace of one of the country’s largest hydroelectric power plants buried there will be a gateway.

Some 12 kilometers of the headrace tunnel are underground. This will direct water from the Maule lagoon to the turbines. That is also the location of a manmade cave reaching 40 meters high. This cavern houses the machines, as well as the 470-meter slope of the reinforced pressure tunnel.

The goal is to borrow the water’s power without changing the surroundings. Balancing the demand for electricity with the Maule Valley’s irrigation needs without disturbing the peace of the Andes. Lighting up Chile without disturbing the condor, who was there before humankind decided to dig holes in the earth.

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