UPDATE – Bolivia objects to Brazil’s plan for 6,450-MW Madeira

The government of Bolivia has sent a letter to Brazil objecting to Brazil’s plans to proceed with two hydroelectric projects totaling 6,450 MW on the Madeira River near the Bolivian border.

Brazil’s environmental agency, Instituto Brasileiro de Meio Ambiente (Ibama), issued preliminary permits July 9 for the 3,150-MW Santo Antonio and 3,300-MW Jirau hydroelectric projects in the Amazon Region, but set a number of environmental conditions. (HNN 7/10/07) Brazilian officials said they planned to offer the projects to developers in concession auctions, Santo Antonio in October and Jirau in early 2008.

�We regret and express our annoyance because the environmental permit was issued … before analyzing the environmental, social, and economic consequences,” Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said in a letter sent to the Brazilian government and published in Bolivian newspapers.

Choquehuanca said he expects to hold a meeting with Brazilian authorities as soon as possible to discuss the issue.

Brazil once considered 3,000-MW Bolivia site

The Jirau and Santo Antonio dams would be built 84 kilometers and 119 kilometers from the Bolivian border on the Madeira, an Amazon River tributary. As recently as 2003, Brazilian utilities had studied the possibility of also building a 3,000-MW Cachoeira Esperanza hydro project, farther upstream on the Madeira, within Bolivia, which would have required Bolivian approval.

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 five 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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