The state-owned company Eletrobras and its subsidiary Eletronorte have received approval from the National Electric Energy Agency (Aneel) to go ahead with the plan to build three large hydroelectric plants in the Rio Tapajós Basin, in the Amazon, one of the most preserved areas in the region.
This week, the agency approved the request from the state companies to elaborate the technical and economic feasibility studies of the Jamanxim, Cachoeira do Caí and Cachoeira dos Patos plants, hydroelectric plants that would add up to more than 2,200 megawatts, enough to supply more than 3 million families. The surveys can be carried out until December 31, 2023. For more than ten years, Aneel has received requests to study the construction of these plants, but they have never been made feasible.
Eletrobras and Eletronorte are in the "Tapajós Consortium", created to make these dams feasible, but for more than a decade, they have been kept on the drawing board because of the possible impacts on conservation areas and indigenous lands.
The result of frustrated attempts in the last years ended up emptying the consortium itself. What today boils down to a state partnership brought, until mid-2017, names of French companies such as Electricité de France and GDF Suez Energy Latin America (now Engie), as well as national companies such as Neoenergia, Copel and Cemig. This formation is still listed in Aneel's document of approval.
All were gathered with the purpose of erecting the largest hydroelectric complex in the country in the middle of the Amazon, which included two other plants, São Luiz do Tapajós and Jatobá, the largest. Ibama, as recently as 2016, shelved the licensing process for São Luiz due to its direct impact on indigenous lands, which is prohibited by law.
None of these plants were made viable, and the consortium lost the interest of private members, who got tired of spending money on frustrated projects. It was no less than R$130 million injected into piles of studies.
Since 2013, no medium or large hydroelectric project has been bid for by the federal government due to environmental complexity. The government already has the inventory of each river, with the generation capacity of each plant, but basically all proposals include the creation of reservoirs that would flood large protected areas.
What the state companies say
Questioned, Eletrobras said in a statement that, "from a technical point of view, the Tapajós river basin has a relevant hydroelectric potential, with a high natural capacity to regulate the river flows throughout the year" and that the studies of the new plants "still need governmental actions".
Eletronorte said that "all the projects are technically feasible and would bring great gains to the Brazilian population, because they are clean, renewable energy projects, and potentially less expensive than other sources of generation. The information is from the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo.