Brazil gives environmental approval to 6,450-MW Madeira projects

Brazil’s environmental agency issued preliminary permits July 9 for two hydroelectric plants on the Madeira River totaling 6,450 MW, but set conditions that could cause further delays.

Instituto Brasileiro de Meio Ambiente (Ibama) imposed 33 requirements on the 3,150-MW Santo Antonio and 3,300-MW Jirau hydroelectric projects, proposed for the Madeira River in the Amazon region.

Santo Antonio and Jirau are expected to be offered for development in concession auctions. Brazil’s energy minister said in March that Santo Antonio might be auctioned in July and Jirau in late 2007 or early 2008, although that schedule has slipped. (HNN 5/7/07)

As a result of Ibama’s conditions, a winning consortium would have two years to conduct additional environmental impact studies, including those on biodiversity and possible silt accumulation along the rivers. It also would be required to implement a program to control malaria in the region and to adopt measures to compensate an estimated 3,000 people who would be displaced by the dams.

Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht, which belongs to one of the consortia expected to bid for the public tender, said it was content with the announcement.

“We don’t know the requirements yet but we are quite happy because environmental and business needs have been balanced,” Ireneu Berardi Meireles, director of investments and infrastructure, said.

The two hydro projects, with 44 turbines each, have an estimated cost of 22 billion reais (US$11.6 billion). They are seen as key to Brazil’s power generation growth and economic development in the next decade. The government has been actively pushing for their approval.

The Brazilian consortium working on the projects said it had addressed all previous Ibama concerns and pointed out that additional requirements might prevent the project from reaching the auction.

The first of the projects is due to be ready by 2012 or 2013. However, if there were a delay, Brazil would need new thermal power plants generating more expensive energy than hydropower.

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