#EIA/SEA#: The Belo Monte Project in the Amazon region (State: Pará. Country: Brasil)

UHE Belo Monte is a hydroelectric power plant to be built in the Amazon area, in the state of Pará (Brazil). The total capacity of the plant is 11,2 GW, which makes it the third biggest hydro power plant in the world. The assessment to evaluate the potential of the Xingu Basin was conducted during the 70’s and the 80’s, and the original project of Belo Monte, at that moment called Kararaô, was presented in 1989. Due to environmentalists and civil society pressure, particularly the reluctance of local indigenous people to accept the project, the project was left aside for a long time. In 2001, Brazilian’s government brought up a plan to increase the energy generation in the country, following the demand expectation and the necessity to have security in the supply. Since then, there has been a constant fight between investors/government against civil society players, and in 2009 the consortium responsible for the project presented the Environment Impact Assessment in order to move on with the project. As a result of the adaptations of the project, the mitigation and compensation plans presented, IBAMA (Brazilian’s National Environmental Agency), issued the Installation License in 2011, meaning that the construction was permitted and could start from that moment.

The project is quite controversy in Brazil and created a conflict with several international institutions, especially with the OECD. Personalities are advocating against the power plant in inside the country and abroad (James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger, among others). The project is criticized from many points of view, but the central discussion remains over the environmental impacts, social impacts, technical feasibility and costs.

From the environmental and social point of view, although the technology to be used is the best available, which means that a smaller area has to be flooded, the reservoir will cover 440 Km² and will cause the displacement of almost 1.000 families. The river flow will be reduced, affecting the local fauna and flora, besides undermining some economic activities, such as fishery. The social and environmental programs or projects to comply with the IBAMA’s requirements account for about USD 3 billion, or 20% of the total cost.

Furthermore, to prevent major impacts and compensate some of them that are not avoidable, the project was adapted. First of all, changes in the reservoir, in the channel structure to compose the reservoir, among others, made that the power plant only can operate near its total capacity during a certain period of the year. So, even though the total capacity is above 11 GW, the energy guaranteed in the purchase agreements is closer to 4 GW, which is the amount that can be generated constantly throughout the year. Taking into account the total cost incurred (more than USD 15 billion), the feasibility and real necessity of the project has been put on trial for many technical experts and representatives of the civil society. The high cost of environmental and social programs, along with the changes in the technical project, proves the importance of the EIA in this case, even though the concerns raised from this process haven’t been enough to convince the involved parts not to undertake it.

Finally, the discussion comes to a point which is even more controversial. What is the kind of development we should encourage in the Amazon area? Nowadays, despite its decrease, the deforestation levels are still high. The project is already attracting many people to the region and the cities tend to expand, which is particularly dangerous in an area that land properties and environmental legislation are not fully respected. Maybe a Strategic Environment Analysis would be very useful in this case.

References: www.ibama.com.br


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