In Brazil, “dammed” if you do, damned if you don’t

June 10, 2013

Nina Wegner – The Atlantic, 06/10/2013

Deep in the Brazilian Amazon, the world’s third-largest dam has had a rocky month. Two indigenous occupations and a worker’s strike at the construction site of Belo Monte, Brazil’s most expensive public project ever, have shown that the project may turn out to be far from the minimum-impact, socially responsible beacon of development that President Dilma Rousseff would like people to believe it is. Belo Monte still has many flaws — such as over 50 lawsuits in regional and federal courts challenging the dam’s legality — and although indigenous demands make up Belo Monte’s splashiest headlines, there is another important but lesser-known conflict playing out in the town of Altamira, just 25 miles from the main dam site.

Maria Reis, a fishmonger whose home hugs the shore of the Xingu River, is furious, and she is not alone. As Belo Monte rapidly takes shape downriver on the Xingu, Altamirans like Reis are accusing the Brazilian government of failing to properly balance the rights of local citizens against the national interest. “Dilma is always on TV saying she wants a new Brazil without poverty and with progress. But what progress is it that kills people, kills dreams?” says Reis.

In response to outcry from environmentalists, indigenous groups, and activists, the dam has been redesigned to minimize its impact on the local communities and environment, scaling down the originally proposed five-reservoir dam to one “run-of-the-river” project. Thus re-envisioned, Belo Monte will only flood 516 square km of land as opposed to the originally planned 18,000 square km, minimizing displacement and the flooding of indigenous lands. With its maximum capacity of 11,233 megawatts, the newer, gentler, “greener” dam has become a top priority in Brazil’s PAC 2 (Program for Accelerated Growth), a spending plan of $582 billion on public projects from 2011 to 2014.

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Rousseff aims $2.5 billion at energy research: corporate Brazil

June 3, 2013

Stephen Nielsen – Bloomberg, 06/03/2013

Brazil will pour 6.1 billion reais ($2.85 billion) to fund renewable-power and biofuel technology research, accelerating its efforts to modernize its energy industry and shift away from a commodity-export based economy.

The country plans to triple funds for companies including Bunge Ltd. (BG) and Petroleo Brasileiro SA that are developing processes to turn sugar cane into high-margin chemicals and boost ethanol output, said Alexandre Tanaka, an official with Brazil’s research-financing agency Finep.

Brazil’s ambition is to lead development of the next generation of biofuels after a decade of hyperinflation stymied research budgets. The country is seeking to become a supplier of fuel-production technology and processes rather than purchasing them from other countries, Tanaka said. Its position as the world’s top producer of sugar cane may help it succeed with an approach some U.S. companies have abandoned.

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Total and BP outbid oil rivals for Brazil Amazon coast licenses

May 15, 2013

Rodrigo Orihuela, Juan Pablo Spinetto – Bloomberg, 05/14/2013

BP Plc (BP/) and Total SA (FP), Europe’s biggest oil companies after Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA), won exploration rights in the Amazon basin as Brazil’s first oil auction in five years attracts a record level of bids.

Total, based in Paris, gained exploration access to operate five blocks at the Foz do Amazonas basin in northern Brazil together with partners BP and Petroleo Brasileiro SA, the oil regulator said today. London-based BP won an additional license to operate a block at the same basin in partnership with Petrobras, as the state-controlled oil company is known.

Brazil, home to the largest crude discovery in the Americas in more than 30 years, is holding its first oil exploration round since 2008, attracting more than 60 prospective bidders for a total of 289 blocks in 11 basins. The country is set to break the $1.1 billion record in auctioning licenses, according to Joao Carlos de Luca, the head of the Brazilian Oil Institute.

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The rights and wrongs of Belo Monte

May 6, 2013

The Economist, 05/04/2013

The biggest building site in Brazil is neither in the concrete jungle of São Paulo nor in beachside Rio de Janeiro, which is being revamped to host the 2016 Olympics. It lies 3,000km (1,900 miles) north in the state of Pará, deep in the Amazon basin. Some 20,000 labourers are working around the clock at Belo Monte on the Xingu river, the biggest hydropower plant under construction anywhere. When complete, its installed capacity, or theoretical maximum output, of 11,233MW will make it the world’s third-largest, behind China’s Three Gorges and Itaipu, on the border between Brazil and Paraguay.

Everything about Belo Monte is outsized, from the budget (28.9 billion reais, or $14.4 billion), to the earthworks—a Panama Canal-worth of soil and rock is being excavated—to the controversy surrounding it. In 2008 a public hearing in Altamira, the nearest town, saw a government engineer cut with a machete. In 2010 court orders threatened to stop the auction for the project. The private-sector bidders pulled out a week before. When officials from Norte Energia, the winning consortium of state-controlled firms and pension funds, left the auction room, they were greeted by protesters—and three tonnes of pig muck.

Since then construction has twice been halted briefly by legal challenges. Greens and Amerindians often stage protests. Xingu Vivo (“Living Xingu”), an anti-Belo Monte campaign group, displays notes from supporters all over the world in its Altamira office. James Cameron, a Hollywood film-maker, has chimed in to compare Brazil’s dam-builders to the villains in “Avatar”, one of his blockbusters.

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Brazil: dead fish swamp future Olympic rowing venue

March 18, 2013

Kristene Quan – Time, 03/17/2013

The lake in Rio de Janeiro where rowers will compete at the 2016 Olympics Games has been filled with an estimated 65 tons of dead fish, according to the Herald Sun.

The water in the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon became deoxygenated after storms last week washed “a large amount of organic matter” into the lake, leading to the death of thousands of fish called shad, the Guardian reported.

Rio’s municipal department of the environment launched a two-day emergency clean-up operation with 100 municipal workers to remove the dead fish from the lake, which is located in the heart of the city and a popular tourist attraction, the Daily Mail noted.

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Climate change: get ready to adapt!

March 15, 2013

Otaviano Canuto – Huffington Post, 02/27/2013

WB President Jim Yong Kim’s recent Washington Post op-ed “Make Climate Change a Priority” warned that “global warming imperils all of the development gains we have made.” Jim Kim drew on a recent World Bank report that points to the possibility for global temperatures to rise by 4 degrees Celsius or more by the end of the century, with severe natural, economic and social impacts.

Jim Kim’s call is all the more urgent given how grim are actual trends on efforts to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Growth in world carbon emissions from energy use in the 2000s more than tripled compared to the 1990s, averaging 3 percent a year. After repeated failures in negotiations, the goal of a global agreement on mitigation feels to be even further away today than 20 years ago. With current battles over fiscal policy, U.S. government spending on energy R&D is expected to fall rather than rise in coming years. Many experts have concluded that the aim of keeping global temperature increases down to 2 degrees Celsius or less (roughly equal to an atmospheric concentration of equivalent carbon dioxide of 450 ppm or less) is now simply no longer feasible.A study by the Stanford Energy Modeling Forum found that in most cases its models simply could not solve for a 450 ppm scenario.

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End all trade barriers

January 18, 2013

Bob Dinneen – Ethanol Producer Magazine, 01/16/2013

As America’s ethanol industry continues to fight to expand the domestic market for ethanol through the increased use of E15, more flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs) on the road, and more consumer fuel choice at the pump, the global market for ethanol has been critical to maintaining the health and profitability of our nation’s ethanol industry.  Despite the arrival of the E10 “blend wall” for ethanol in the U.S, the ever-increasing demand for ethanol globally has helped the U.S. industry continue to grow and thrive at the same time it fights to combat an artificially constrained U.S fuel market.

While the U.S. ethanol industry historically only exported a small amount of its product every year, that all changed in 2009 when improving industry economics led to the U.S. ethanol industry becoming the lowest-cost producer on the planet. This ultimately led to a dramatic and sustained surge in U.S. ethanol exports around the globe. Amazingly, annual ethanol exports from the U.S. expanded from a meager 113 million gallons in 2009 to 397 million gallons in 2010 to a record 1.2 billion gallons in 2011. Although exports of U.S. ethanol in 2012 are not expected to be much higher than around 750 million gallons, this amount still represents the second-largest export total in U.S. history.

It is widely accepted that the reduction in U.S. ethanol exports in 2012 is in large part due to the sustained drought conditions suffered in the Midwest that have, in turn, significantly increased ethanol feedstock costs, and thereby hurt global price competitiveness. There is strong evidence, however, to suggest that the reduction of exports in 2012 is not solely the result of recent shifts in industry economics, but has been exacerbated by a recent effort by Brazil to erect new barriers to U.S. ethanol imports. While exports of ethanol to Brazil made up more than one-third of all U.S. ethanol exports in 2011, exports to Brazil have fallen significantly in 2012 due to new protectionist measures put in place over the past 18 months.

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Brazil oil auctions: they are really really happening (really)

January 11, 2013

Samantha Pearson – Financial Times, 01/10/2013

After five years of legal battles, rumours and empty promises it’s finally happening: Brazil is auctioning off its oil blocks.

The country’s energy minister, Edison Lobão, told reporters on Thursday that the so-called 11th round of 172 onshore and offshore blocks would be held in May, or even earlier if possible.

Although the government promised last year to kick off the long-awaited auctions in 2013, there were doubts it would go ahead because of disagreements over the new law governing the distribution of royalties.

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Brazil energy crisis could wreck Rousseff economic agenda

January 9, 2013

Anthony Boadle – Reuters, 01/08/2013

President Dilma Rousseff cut short her vacation on Tuesday to deal with a budding energy crisis that could wreck her efforts to restore vitality to Brazil’s economy this year.

Rousseff denies there is any risk of electricity shortages or rationing stemming from a historic drought that has left hydroelectric dams short of water. But some independent analysts disagree, saying it depends on whether summer rains finally arrive in coming weeks.

Even if the worst is avoided, the crisis has already pushed up electricity prices on the spot markets and could torpedo Rousseff’s delicately balanced economic agenda. She is trying to revive an economy that likely grew less than 1 percent last year, while also keeping a lid on inflation now running above 5.7 percent.

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Brazil said to plan higher ethanol blend as early as May

December 18, 2012

Mario Segio Lima – Bloomberg, 12/18/2012

Brazil, the world’s biggest sugar- cane grower, is considering raising the amount of ethanol mixed with gasoline as early as May as millers are forecast to process a record crop next year, a government official familiar with the plan said.

The mandatory ethanol blend in fuel sold at Brazilian service stations would rise to 25 percent from 20 percent now, said the official, who asked not to be named because he’s not authorized to discuss the plan publicly. Mills in the country process most of the sugar-cane crop into sweetener and fuel between April and November.

Petroleo Brasileiro SA (PETR4), Brazil’s state-run oil producer, has been importing gasoline and selling it below cost this year after fuel demand in the world’s second-largest emerging economy exceeded domestic supplies. Brazil lowered the ethanol blend to 20 percent from 25 percent in October 2011 after rainfall delayed sugar-cane harvesting and reduced crop yields.

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