Brazil state suspends construction authorization for 3,300-MW Jirau

Rondonia State’s environmental agency has suspended its construction authorization for the 3,300-MW Jirau hydroelectric project, declaring a 10-kilometer relocation of the proposed project would flood an environmental conservation area on Brazil’s Madeira River.

However, government-run Agencia Brasil said March 9 that Rondonia’s environmental development secretary, Cletho Brito, said the March 6 suspension by Secretaria de Desenvolvimento Ambiental (Sedam) would not halt preparatory work at the project.

Consorcio Energia Sustentavel do Brasil (ESBR), won a 2008 concession to build and operate Jirau. However, controversy arose when a competing consortium and government agencies argued ESBR broke environmental regulations by changing the location of the proposed project. (HNN 12/8/08) ESBR said it planned to move the Jirau dam nine kilometers downriver as a way to save 1 billion reais (US$626 million).

In December, an appellate judge overturned an injunction that had suspended an initial environmental license for construction of Jirau. Brazil Environmental Minister Carlos Minc had said the new site actually would reduce environmental effects, inundating only 80 percent of the reservoir area of the previous site.

However, Brito said the change of location would cause flooding of a state park conservation unit of Parque Rio Vermelho. He said the suspension also took into consideration a request of state prosecutors that no license be issued before full trial of the lawsuit challenging the new location.

Agencia Brasil said ESBR confirmed the suspension would not stop progress until construction of the reservoir, not jeopardizing the schedule until 2012. The consortium said it was negotiating with state authorities for a solution, possibly transferring to the state an area three times larger than the area that would be flooded.

In February, Brazil’s national development bank, Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Economico e Social (BNDES), approved 7.2 billion reais (US$3 billion) in financing for construction of Jirau. (HNN 2/20/09)

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