Chile's Supreme Court has blocked a hydroelectric plant project in the Patagonia region, accepting an appeal filed by environmental groups.

The high court's ruling shot down a decision by the southern Aysen region's Environmental Impact Assessment System, or SEIA, which had given the green light for the Rio Cuervo Hydroelectric Project earlier this month, judiciary officials confirmed Friday.

The decision stated that the SEIA acted illegally in approving the 640 MW project and ignoring the National Geology and Mining Service's recommendation that the joint venture behind the plant - Swiss firm Xstrata Copper and Australian energy retailer Origin Energy - carry out a new soil survey.

The Supreme Court ruled that the new study must be conducted before the $645 million project, part of that joint venture's $3.6 billion Energia Austral hydroelectric project in Patagonia, can be approved.

The Rio Cuervo project was approved on May 8 by the Aysen region's SEIA despite the opposition of environmental groups and some lawmakers.

Other hydroelectric projects are also planned in Patagonia as part of energy-hungry Chile's attempts to increase electricity output.

A consortium made up of Endesa Chile, a unit of Spain's Endesa and the South American country's largest electric utility, and Chile's Colbun is building the 2.75 GW HidroAysen megaproject in Patagonia that involves the construction of five dams on the Pasca and Baker rivers and the flooding of 5,000 hectares (12,350 acres).

The Supreme Court gave the green light for that $3.2 billion project in April, rejecting appeals filed by lawmakers, regional organization and environmental groups.

Plans for the megaproject sparked large-scale protests last year in the Patagonia region and in Santiago.

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