Brazilian official signals end to country’s mega-dam boom

Santo Antonio Hydropower Project

When work is completed at Brazil’s massive Belo Monte hydroelectric plant, it will likely signal the end of an era, per statements made by an official from the South American country’s Ministry of Mines and Energy earlier this week.

Speaking to the Rio de Janeiro-based newspaper O Globo, Executive Secretary Paulo Pedrosa indicated the country will shift its energy focus away from mega-projects like Belo Monte, Jirau and Itaipu in favor of wind, solar, small hydro and decentralized resources.

The move results in no small part from the heavy controversy most of Brazil’s large hydro projects have caused, with many acres of Amazonian rainforest and numerous indigenous groups impacted by their construction.

“We have no prejudice against big projects, but it has to respect a vision of society, which is restricted by these projects,” Pedrosa told O Globo.

Also key in the announcement seems to be the privatization of power generator Eletrobras in August. The previously state-owned company had been instrumental in the development of Belo Monte, Sao Luiz do Tapajos, Jirau, Santo Antonio and others — often funneling lucrative contracts to bidders by way of graft.

“We are not willing to make moves that will mask the costs and risks,” Pedrosa said.

What happens next
Though large hydroelectric facilities appear to be off the table, with Brazilian energy research company Empresa de Pesquisa Energetica going so far as to remove the most gargantuan of proposals from its 10-year plan, the country still has a significant potential for hydropower plants built at smaller scale.

Many developers seem to have noticed this potential as well, perhaps due to 2015 legislation that streamlined much of the small hydro authorization proccess.

Changes in legislation have led to the approval of nearly 7.7 GW-worth of small hydro proposals, according to data published by power regulator Agencia Nacional de Energia Eletrica (ANEEL).

The Brazilian government said more than 200 MW of small hydro were added to the country’s grids in 2016 — adding to nearly 5 GW of cumulative small hydro capacity being generated by 440 plants.

Small hydro represents about 3% of Brazil’s total generation mix. Of the 82% of Brazil’s overall power supply generated by renewable sources, nearly 70% is hydroelectric.

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Michael Harris formerly was Editor for HydroWorld.com.

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