UPDATE – Work suspended at Brazil’s 3,300-MW Jirau

Construction was suspended May 20, 2009, on the 3,300-MW Jirau hydroelectric project due to expiration of a license that had permitted preliminary construction work at the site on Brazil’s Madeira River.

Brazilian federal and state prosecutors previously filed with the federal environmental agency, Instituto Brasileiro do Meio Ambiente (Ibama), recommending the agency suspend Jirau’s installation license. (HydroWorld 5/8/09)

The federal prosecution service and the state prosecution service of Rondonia State filed the action with Ibama seeking to prevent development consortium Consorcio Energia Sustentavel do Brasil (ESBR) from building Jirau. The lawyers argued that ESBR changed the location of the construction of two cofferdams and had deforested areas without authorization from Ibama.

State-run Agencia Brasil said ESBR reported a halt to construction when its partial installation license expired May 18. An ESBR spokesman said 98 percent of the permissible work had been completed under the partial license, which allowed initial construction including cofferdams needed to divert the river for powerhouse construction.

ESBR said the stoppage compromises its construction schedule the commitment to begin generating electricity in early 2012.

An Ibama spokesman said issuance of a definitive installation license for Jirau depends on documents that have not been delivered yet by ESBR. Environment Minister Carlos Minc added that the consortium still must carry out compensation and mitigation foreseen by the project license.

In March, Rondonia State’s environmental agency suspended its construction authorization for Jirau, declaring the relocation of the proposed project would flood an environmental conservation area. However, Rondonia’s environmental development secretary said that suspension by Secretaria de Desenvolvimento Ambiental (Sedam) would not halt preparatory work at the project.

Brazil’s national water agency, Agencia Nacional de Aguas (ANA), gave approval April 29 to construction of the project. ANA said its directors examined a controversial change in project location, nine kilometers downstream from the original site. The agency declared the change had no effect on the multiple uses of the Madeira such as electricity generation, navigation, irrigation, and water supply.

To ensure multiple uses of the river, ANA said it imposed conditions on ESBR, which includes Suez Energy South America Participacoes Ltda.; Eletrosul Centrais Eletricas S/A; Companhia Hidro Eletrica do Sao Francisco (CHESF); and Camargo Correa Investimentos em Infra-Estrutura S/A.

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