Amazon be damned: deforestation undermines future viability of Brazil’s hydropower projects

May 16, 2013

Erin Brodwin – Scientific American, 05/15/2013

The Amazon Basin is the epicenter of the world’s hydropower plants—the same gushing rains that give the region its lush foliage make it a prime destination for developers seeking to capitalize on this allegedly renewable energy source. But the long-term sustainability of these projects, which use the natural flow of water to generate electricity, is now under scrutiny.

A new study of the Belo Monte Dam, one of the world’s largest hydropower energy complexes currently under construction on the Xingu River in the eastern region of the basin, found that large-scale deforestation in the Amazon poses a significant threat to a dam’s energy-generating potential.

Although many studies have examined the impacts of deforestation on the immediate vicinity of hydropower projects, less attention has been paid to its effects on a regional scale. In fact, earlier studies found that a loss of trees within the water basin of hydropower sites increased the energy-generating capacity of the dam in the short-term, because less trees were available to suck water from the ground and export it outside the watershed in a process known as evapotranspiration.

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Rains bring some relief to depleted reservoirs of Brazil’s hydroelectric plants

January 16, 2013

The Washington Post/AP, 01/15/2013

Recent rains have brought some relief to the depleted reservoirs of Brazil’s hydroelectric plants but have done little to dispel concerns over the country’s ability to fulfill its energy demands for the year.

A hotter than usual summer and lack of rain have caused water levels at hydroelectric dams in most of the country to drop to a third of their capacity. The levels are similar to those registered in 2001, when rationing was imposed and blackouts occurred.

The government has said Brazil will not resort to energy rationing because the country has thermal power plants that can be activated.

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Brazil says no to power rationing

January 10, 2013

The Miami Herald/AP, 01/08/2012

Brazil says it will not resort to energy rationing despite low water levels in the country’s hydroelectric power plants.

The executive secretary of the Mines and Energy Ministry is Marcio Zimmermann and he tells reporters on Tuesday that Brazil will activate generators fueled by natural gas if needed.

A hotter than usual summer and lack of rain have caused water levels at hydroelectric dams in most of the country to drop to a third of their capacity. The levels are similar to those registered in 2001, when rationing was imposed and blackouts occurred.

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Brazil utilities baulk at government plan for cheaper electricity

November 9, 2012

Leonardo Goy – Reuters, 11/09/2012

Refusal by large Brazilian power utilities to renew their concessions on the government’s terms has put in doubt the viability of President Dilma Rousseff’s plan to lower electricity costs to spur economic growth.

Minas Gerais state electricity company Cemig decided not to renew concessions for three of its hydroelectric dams that produce 2,500 megawatts (MW).

The Sao Paulo state utility Cesp and power transmission company Cteep are also expected to reject the extension of their concessions in exchange for its commitment to provide cheaper electricity.

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The ‘Perfect Partner’: Brazil Follows its Own Wind Energy Model

August 22, 2012

Peter Gardett – Aol Energy, 8/22/2012

Brazil is a country blessed by nature. Famous for its beaches, renowned for its beauties, the emerging global economic leader is also blessed by huge energy reserves, ranging from deep sea oil to huge rivers that drive hydroelectric production and some of the best wind resources in the world.

Countries have built wind energy as a complement to their existing power infrastructure, but in few places does the natural setting make wind so much “the perfect partner” for hydroelectric power as Brazil, the Global Wind Energy Council said in a report on regulatory frameworks for the country’s emerging wind industry. That is nature at work, with the wind cycle complementing Brazil’s rainy season by blowing strongest during the dry season.

Brazil’s government energy research group EPE says the country hit 1,436 MW of wind power at the end of 2011, an amount it forecasts will more than double to total 3,241 MW in 2012 as government incentives filter through to turbine production and installation. That makes up only a tiny proportion of the country’s total 112,455 MW of power production, but also means it is one of the country’s fastest-growing generation types; by 2019 the GWEC says Brazil will have 6,041 MW of installed wind capacity. That accounts for one third of the average annual increase in power generation over the decade.

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Amid Brazil’s rush to develop, workers resist

May 7, 2012

Simon Romero – The New York Times, 05/05/2012

The revolt here on the banks of the Madeira River, the Amazon’s largest tributary, flared after sunset. At the simmering end of a 26-day strike by 17,000 workers last month, a faction of laborers who were furious over wages and living conditions began setting fire to the construction site at the Jirau Dam.

Throughout the night, they burned more than 30 structures to the ground and looted company stores, capturing the mayhem on their own cellphone cameras, before firefighters extinguished the blazes. The authorities in Brasília flew in hundreds of troops from an elite force to quell the unrest.

Men in camouflage fatigues still patrol the sprawling work site, reflecting a dilemma for Brazil’s leaders. Even as they move to tap one of the world’s last great reserves of hydroelectric power, the Amazon basin, strikes and worker uprisings at the biggest projects are producing delays and cost overruns.

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Brazil’s booming wind sector faces auction test

August 18, 2011

Brian Ellsworth – Reuters, 08/17/2011

Cattle walk inside a wind farm in the city of Osorio, southern Brazil, November 30, 2007. Credit: Reuters/Jamil Bittar

Brazil’s blustery coastlines and booming electricity demand have spurred a wind-power gold rush as investors flock to build turbines and set up wind farms.

Yet, as wind projects slowly shed government protection to compete head-to-head with traditionally cheaper fossil fuel energy, government power auctions this week may reveal whether the wind-power investment euphoria is overblown.

Developers of natural gas power plants, biomass thermoelectric plants and wind farms will compete in an auction on Wednesday to offer the lowest prices for the electricity their facilities will sell in the coming years. A second auction on Thursday will not include natural gas projects.

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Brazil awards rights to develop Belo Monte dam

April 22, 2010

BBC News, 04/20/10

A consortium of nine companies has won the right to build a hydroelectric dam on a tributary of the Amazon in Brazil.

Brazil’s electricity regulator said the Norte Energia consortium would build the Belo Monte dam, to which indigenous groups and environmentalists object.

It is led by the state-owned Companhia Hidro Eletrica do Sao Francisco.

Officials say the dam on the Xingu River is crucial for development, but critics argue thousands of people will be displaced and an ecosystem damaged.

The bidding had been halted three times before a final appeal by the government allowed the winning bidder to be announced.

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Brazil: Cost of Amazon dam jumps $2B

March 5, 2010

The Associated Press, 03/04/10

Officials say the cost of building a huge dam in Brazil’s Amazon has jumped $2 billion because of new environmental protections.

The Belo Monte hydroelectric dam on a tributary of the Amazon river will be the world’s third largest.

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Watch a Brazil Institute event, “Rivers of the Amazon: Can They Be Used on a Sustainable Basis as a Source of Renewable Hydropower?” The panel debated the environmental impacts of the Santo Antonio dam in the Amazon.


Amazon projects undercut Brazil’s new green path

December 14, 2009

Raymond Colitt-Reuters, 12/14/09

While blue-and-yellow macaws fly overhead, a network of pipes fed by a constant flow of trucks pours enough concrete to build 37 football stadiums.

The $7.7 billion Santo Antonio dam on the Madeira river is part of Brazil’s largest concerted development plan for the Amazon since the country’s military government cut highways through the rain forest to settle the vast region during its two-decade reign starting in 1964.

In the coming years, dams, roads, gas pipelines, and power grids worth more than $30 billion will be built to tap the region’s vast raw materials, and transport its agricultural products in coming years.

The Santo Antonio dam in the western Amazon’s Rondonia state, which goes online in December 2011, will pave the way for a trade route between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans by making more of the Madeira river navigable.

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