How to produce 11.233 MW - and jeopardize the Amazon, 600 species and displace 300,000 from their homes
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Hydropower in the Amazon: clean energy but with social and environmental costs

Why is this problem unsolvable?

How could Belo Monte be built in a way that it would cause the least amount of impact on the environment? Should it be built at all? How should we deal with power-generating technologies such as hydropower that, yet green, leverage enormous, irremediable environmental and social implementation costs? How can those implications be fittingly mitigated?


Belo Monte” means “beautiful hill” in Portuguese. Shall we keep it that way?


Macro perspective: Hydropower accounts for 20% of the world’s electricity and South America is the leader in this field. If we keep in mind that this continent has hydropower as 60% of its energy generation, that Brazil holds the world’s 3rd largest hydro capacity and that Brazil alone secures 15% of the planet’s fresh water, we realize how Hydropower plants play a crucial role in the future of the ever-increasing-energy-demand’s South America.


  • Problem: Construction of Belo Monte Dam on the Xingu River, Amazon, Brazil.

    • Project description: since 1975 the Brazilian government has been trying to put forth the project which intends to build the world’s 3rd largest hydropower plant in installed-capacity (11,233 MW) at the cost of flooding over 500 square kilometers in the Amazon, displacing indigenous populations and jeopardizing one of the planet’s richest and most endemic fauna and flora. Tag price: over $18 billion

    • The project is aimed to fuel Brazil’s booming economy that in 2010 alone flaunted a 7.5% GDP growth




    • Brazil’s population: the project will generate electricity to 23 million homes as well as create new jobs (around 18,700 direct jobs and 25,000 indirect ones), foster direct and indirect investment from the private sector

    • Brazil’s Indigenous and local Populations: Over 20 villages would be completely submerged and an expected 20,000 indigenous people would need to be removed and placed elsewhere

    • Brazil’s Government: the Dam is considered the key, and most polemical, point in Brazil’s strategic Growth plan “PAC” – Programa de Aceleração do Crescimento (Growth Acceleration Program)

    • Consortium: The project will be controlled by a consortium. In July 2010, Eletrobras, which through its subsidiaries controls a 49.98% stake in the venture, announced its 18 members and their respective share ownership: Eletronorte (subsidiary of Eletrobras) – 19.98%; Eletrobras, state-owned company – 15%; CHESF (subsidiary of Eletrobras) – 15%; Bolzano Participacoes investments fund – 10%; Gaia Energia e Participações (Bertin Group) – 9%; Caixa Fi Cevics investments fund – 5%; Construction firm OAS – 2.51%; Queiroz Galvão, construction company – 2.51%; Funcef pension fund – 2.5%; Galvão Engenharia, construction company – 1.25%; Contern Construções, construction company – 1.25%; Cetenco Engenharia, construction company – 1.25%; Mendes Junior, construction company – 1.25%; Serveng-Civilsan, construction company – 1.25%; J Malucelli, construction company – 1%; Sinobras – 1%; J Malucelli Energia, construction company – 0.25%

    • Environmental Institutions and Organizations: they have for long been against the project for its ecological implications. In 2010 over 140 organization from all around the World wrote the then President, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a letter opposing against the environmental license granted by Brazilian authorities to the Dam’s construction

    • You: the Amazon is considered the “lungs” of the planet and its biodiversity is unseen elsewhere

Ramifications of the problem

The backbone of the problem: how to fuel Brazil’s voracious development without jeopardizing the Amazon through the construction of Belo Monte and alike?


    • Pros:

      • Power: Third Hydropower generator in the world, almost 11.5 MW

      • It’s “green”: the energy produced by the dam for the coming 50 years, at an average of 4419 MW, is 1.14 bboe (billion barrels of oil equivalent). This is 9% of the proven oil reserves of Brazil (12.6 bbl) or 2% of the total oil reserves of Russia (60 bbl): much less carbon-dioxide than if the same energy were generated by oil or thermo-electricals.

      • Social: Creation of jobs; millions of homes would obtain Electricity and over 30 million people would have access to safe drinking water


    • Cons:


      • Domino-effect: Belo Monte is not the first one; it will not be the last. Approximately 70 dam projects to be settled in the Amazon region are in on-going planning stages. If Belo Monte is brought into reality, how many more are yet to come?

      • Social impact: Globally, millions of indigenous and local populations have been displaced in “the name of the development.” Some critics estimate that over 320,000 people might be displaced

      • Technical: critics have alleged that the Xingu river is not suitable for the project and that the Dam might only generate 3% of its projected power

      • Environmental:


        • Loss of Biodiversity: The Xingu River homes an estimated 600 fishes species. The Dam would temporarily disrupt its water flow for over 7 months as well as permanently change its water route and consequently the fish migration routes, Xingu’s fauna and flora. With over 500 square kilometers of flooded areas, hundreds of species from the Amazon’s endemic fauna and flora would be in danger of extinction

        • Greenhouses gases: according to the National Amazon Research Institute (INPA), during construction, installation, connection to the national power grid, and its first ten years running, the Dam should produce 112.783 million metric tons of Carbon Dioxide equivalent, as well as sulfuric acid and a diverse range of chemicals; that will permanently change the water’s pH

        • Irreversible damage to the archeological sites in the area


NOW, VOTE: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/JT5VVFC


Matheus Silva

Student Assembly - Latin America

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