Brazil's Belo Monte dam given environmental licence

By Richard High03 February 2010

Brazil's Belo Monte dam in the Amazon rainforest has been given an environmental licence by the country's environmental agency IBAMA, paving the way for the start of the tendering process in April.

Odebrecht and Camargo Correa have already expressed an interest in collaborating on the project. A spokesman told KHL that at present "the consortium is not complete" so no announcement will be made until February.

The controversial BRL 20 billion (US$ 10.9 billion) hydro-electric power (HEP) project has been heavily criticized by environmentalists, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and indigenous leaders who say it will displace indigenous tribes and damage the Amazon basin.

Brazil's environment minister Carlos Minc said the winning company will be required to spend about BRL 1.47 billion (US$ 800 million) to offset any environmental damage caused by the project, which will see at least 500 km2 of land flooded and 12000 people affected by its construction.

Protest

Indigenous people have been fighting against the project for more than 20 years.

Megaron Tuxucumarrãe, a Kayapó chief, said, "We want to make sure that Belo Monte does not destroy the ecosystems and the biodiversity that we have taken care of for millennia. We are opposed to dams on the Xingu, and will fight to protect our river."

Located in Para state on the Xingu river, a tributary of the Amazon, the dam will be the world's third largest hydroelectric plant. Brazil's energy ministry (Ministério de Minas e Energia) said electricity production, which is expected to start in 2015, will eventually reach 11000 GW per year, enough power for 23 million Brazilian homes.

The dam is the largest project of President Lula's Growth Acceleration Plan (PAC). It is designed to help Brazil keep up with increasing energy demands from a rapidly expanding economy, while limiting greenhouse gas emissions, according to IBAMA (Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources).

HEPs are seen as a way to ensure power supplies over the next decade, with at least 100 dams planned for the Amazon region, according to NGO International Rivers.

Opponents say the Belo Monte HEP will be inefficient, generating less than 10% of its capacity during the three to four months of the low-water season.

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