Federal court suspends 11.2-GW Belo Monte hydropower plant’s operating license

Belo Monte Hydropower Plant

A federal judge has suspended the operating license for the 11.2-GW Belo Monte hydroelectric project just days after the beleaguered plant came under fire for allegations of violating human rights.

The ruling, ordered by Judge Maria Carolina Valente do Carmo last week, will only be lifted if developer Norte Energia and the Brazilian government meet terms of a previous license, which stipulated that a new office Funai — an indigenous population authority — be constructed in conjunction with Belo Monte.

The court ordered in 2014 that Norte Energia was to have submitted a plan to bolster Funai’s presence in the region — due in large part to the number of native groups impacted by the massive project.

In addition to losing its operating license, the federal court also slapped Norte Energia with a fine exceeding US$220,000 for failing to provide a plan for Funai.

The penalties come after the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights accepted a suit against the Brazilian government earlier this month, demanding a response to grievances expressed by Brazil’s indigenous groups.

Monte’s newly-suspended operating license is only the latest in a long line of controversies that have plagued the plant throughout its development.

In addition to widespread opposition to the project, Norte Energia has faced worksite occupationsapproval cancelationsworker deaths and court-ordered work stoppages.

Most recently, Brazil’s Institute of the Environment and Natural Resources (IBAMA) denied an operating license for the plant, saying its developer, Norte Energia, had failed to meet conditions required for its approval.

Budgeted at US$26 billion, Belo Monte is being built on the Xingu River in Brazil’s northern Para State and will be the world’s third largest hydroelectric complex when completed. Belo Monte has a completion deadline of 2018, though Norte Energia filed a request for a construction extension this past June.

A federal court rejected a request in July from from a public prosecutor to suspend work on the project because Norte Energia was accused of failing to consult properly with aboriginal groups potentially affected by Belo Monte.

Voith Hydro, which is supplying equipment for the project, said the plant is now expected to be commissioned in 2019.

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Michael Harris formerly was Editor for HydroWorld.com.

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