Saturday, 24 April 2010
Large hydroelectric power plants are back (I)
Fifteen years after Tucuruí - the largest hydroelectric power complex in the tropics - was inaugurated, the Brazilian government is starting a new and even larger electric power undertaking in the same state of Pará: the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant on the Xingu river. Monte Belo will absorb US$ 8 billion and, upon conclusion, may generate eleven thousand megawatts (MW), surpassing not only Tucuruí but also Itaipu, Brazil’s and the world’s largest hydroelectric power plant. Monte Belo will add nearly 20% to the Brazilian installed electric power capacity.
Technicians from the Eletronorte and Eletrobrás utilities are already at work on a government / private enterprise consortium model, to carry out the Monte Belo project. As per the preliminary draft, the Brazilian government would upfront the necessary funds to install the worksite, hire the initial services and order the machinery, until such a time as details of private enterprise participation are ironed out. There is good reason for this governmental hurry: all electricity extracted from the Xingu river project would be transferred to the South of Brazil, entering that market just as it would be hit by a power supply crisis.
Eletronorte has already taken the first step. Last month a high voltage line was inaugurated, stretching another 300 kilometers Westward the electric power from the Tucuruí plant on the Tocantins river. As such, when Belo Monte starts operation it will already be connected to an interlinked transmission grid which, in successive waves, will allow the transfer to more developed Brazilian regions of all power surplus in Pará, Brazil’s fifth largest generator and third largest exporter of raw power.
The latest Eletrobrás strategic planning review (Plan 2015) calls for the following breakdown: of all the electric power from the Tocantins - Araguaia, Xingu and Lower Tapajós river basins (rightside bank tributaries of the Amazon, concentrating the largest hydroelectric potential), 3,800 MW would be supplied to Northern Brazil, mainly in the Belém and São Luís aluminum complexes, while 4,900 MW would feed the Northeast and 12,000 MW would go down to the Southeast. Thus, the Amazon - specifically the state of Pará - would be consolidated as Brazil’s largest power region. Let it not be forgotten that the Amazon already supplies ores (mostly concentrated in the Pará location of Carajás). However, the region would have to abandon its industrialization dreams because production bundling will only take place in markets which consume these goods.
At one time it seemed that the cycle to tap electricity from the major rivers in the Amazonian rainforest had been permanently broken by the outraged outcry which followed the Tucuruí and the Balbina projects. The national and international communities, especially scientists, severely criticized the Brazilian government for the negative effects of damming the rivers in the region. Enormous water volumes and low slopes led to the flooding of huge forest tracts, impacting the environment and native populations alike.
Furthermore, inexplicably these works far overran their budgets. Tucuruí, whose construction started in 1975, was originally budgeted at US$ 2.1 billion. In today’s dollars, its cost would be around US$ 8 or 9 billion. The ensuing wrathful reaction reached international financing institutions, which nixed their support for new projects. The World Bank vetoed funding for new hydroelectric plants in the Amazon. Cashless, the Brazilian government suspended new plans. Among all such plans, the Xingu complex was the most polemical.
At a meeting in the 80s held in Altamira, the city where most of the support for the Xingu project is to come from, the Indians were able to sway public opinion against building new major dams in a region wherein the ecological balance is so precarious. Images of submerged forests, of dying trees and homeless populations, of new plagues rising and even greater threats looming ahead on a doom’s-day future, strengthened the reaction against these megaworks.
By Lúcio Flávio Pinto who lives in Belém and is
editor of the Jornal Pessoal newspaper.
Posted by Gil Serique: Culture, Windsurf & Wildlife In the Amazon at 07:00