Note to Mongabay

Publication Date: 07/22/2021 04:00

Regarding the article “Belo Monte boondoggle: Brazil’s biggest, costliest dam may be unviable”, published on 1/17/2020 by the Mongabay news agency in its English portal, and on 2/4/2020 in the Brazilian version, Norte Energia, responsible for the Belo Monte Hydroelectric Power Plant, hereby informs: 

On November 27, 2019, Norte Energia brought the 18th turbine online in the Main Powerhouse of the Belo Monte HPP, in Vitória do Xingu (PA). At that time, the venture became the largest 100% Brazilian hydroelectric plant, achieving 11,233.1 MW of installed capacity – an amount sufficient to meet roughly 10% of the national demand. The installed power of the plant that sits on the Xingu River corresponds to 7% of the entire Brazilian generation capacity and places the venture fourth in terms of size for hydroelectric plants worldwide.

Operational adjustments were required to accomplish this schedule, such as switching out the assembly consortium in 2018 and the shareholders’ commitment to inject capital during the final phase of the works. The fact that the company had already started selling produced energy in the ex-post market also provided the required support to maintain the pace and complete the agenda as scheduled. The deployment cycle spanned nine years and required investments on the order of 40 billion Brazilian reais. The energy generated by the venture at full operational capacity may serve 60 million Brazilians through the National Interconnected System (SIN).

The company ranks among the largest companies in Brazil, in terms of financial results, and is prepared to manage the profit generation potential that Belo Monte represents as of this year, 2020, with the Plant fully online.

Regarding the debate on the alleged “aggression to nature” and “ruthless reorganization of those affected”, the company clarifies that the Plant’s project was designed to significantly increase efficiency as well as social and environmental protection through measures that included a reduction of the reservoir area from 1,225 square kilometers to 478. It is also important to highlight the fact that no indigenous lands were flooded by the venture as a result, which contributed to maintaining Brazil’s energy matrix as the cleanest and most renewable in the world.

The Belo Monte HPP was designed under a run-of-the-river model after extensive discussion with representatives of the local populations, the scientific community, environmental organizations and all aspects of the government, resulting in a venture designed to have the lowest possible socio-environmental impact. 

One of the consequences of this dialogue was the flooded area being reduced by over 60% (if compared to the original proposal) – thus avoiding the flooding of areas occupied by indigenous communities. These are initiatives that demonstrate the commitment of Norte Energia and the Belo Monte Hydroelectric Power Plant to the generation of energy for Brazil, quality of life for the communities surrounding the project, sustainable development of the region and compliance with current environmental legislation. 

In the environmental area, actions developed by Belo Monte have fostered the broadening of technical-scientific knowledge on the Amazon’s biodiversity, especially that of the Xingu River. 

During the Plant’s deployment, two laboratories were installed on the campus of the Federal University of Pará (UFPA) in Altamira, which accredited the institution to become a reference center for ichthyofauna in the lower and middle Xingu and aquaculture of ornamental fish in the Northern region. In the last seven years, around 4 million baby Arrau turtles, six-tubercled Amazon River turtles and yellow-spotted Amazon river turtles have been released into the wild. These are the results of a variety of actions to preserve these species at one of their main reproduction sites, Tabuleiro do Embaubal, where about 20 reproductive areas used to lay the turtles’ eggs are monitored, in addition to over 90 reproductive sites in Volta Grande do Xingu, where Norte Energia also develops preservation actions.

In terms of conserving the flora, Norte Energia set up a seed bank throughout the deployment of the project, from native species of trees, selected and collected prior to the formation of the reservoirs and the area around the Plant. Today, the material is used as a basis to produce scientific knowledge in national and international institutions. 

The efforts to conserve the biodiversity also include a 64,250-acre Permanent Preservation Area (APP) surrounding the reservoirs and the Deviation Channel that connects the reservoirs to the hydroelectric plant – of which about 12,350 acres will receive actions to recover plant coverage, through the production and planting of millions of tree seedlings. 

Regarding commitments to the indigenous communities, Norte Energia supports approximately 4,000 indigenous peoples of nine ethnicities that inhabit 12 territories (11 Indigenous Territories and one Indigenous Area) through a set of programs and projects. Agencies and institutions operating in the region under the influence of the project work in tandem to conduct actions and support public policies focused on the indigenous communities. Highlights in the area of Education, for example, include the construction of indigenous schools. As of now, 19 have already been built and two are underway. In the Healthcare area, 31 Basic Indigenous Healthcare Units were built, equipped and transferred to the Special Indigenous Health District of Altamira/PA (DSEI), and equipment and vehicles were provided to the public health agencies that work with the indigenous population in the region. 

Also regarding public policy support, it is important to mention the construction of eight Territorial Protection Units (UPTs) set forth in the Cooperation Agreement between Norte Energia and the National Indian Foundation (Funai). Three more Units will be built in the region’s indigenous lands. 

It is also important to highlight the construction of 518 kilometers of highways and access roads to the communities, 16 runways and 31 water supply systems, as well as the execution of projects focused on technical assistance, income generation and subsistence for the families; institutional strengthening of the indigenous associations; training and qualification of the indigenous population in the areas of healthcare and school education; territorial management workshops; among other actions.

With regard to relocating the population affected by construction of the dam, the company underscores that it built five new neighborhoods in Altamira, where about 3,800 families now have 63-square-meter houses set on lots measuring at least 300 square meters. A sixth neighborhood was completed in 2019 and is now ready to receive urban indigenous and fishing families. The company also undertook the transfer of families from Jardim Independente I, which was not listed in the pre-defined obligations of Norte Energia regarding the resettlements. Upon making this agreement, which required a joint effort with Ibama and the City of Altamira, Norte Energia showed its concern with the local population, going above and beyond what was defined as its responsibility.

In all, the socio-environmental actions set forth within the Belo Monte design comprise an investment of 6.3 billion Brazilian reais. 

The Company also clarifies that there is absolutely no risk or project error at the Belo Monte HPP, and there is definitely no uncertainty about the safety of the structures that make up the hydroelectric complex. 

Norte Energia points out that the Belo Monte Engineering project was guided by Brazilian and international technical standards applicable to projects of same nature, with Brazil being recognized worldwide for its experience and competence. Since the beginning, the enterprise has had the technical support of a board formed by the most experienced hydroelectric dam consultants in the world (all Brazilian) and by an independent engineering company hired by the financiers.

Recently, on November 7, 2018, the National Energy Agency (ANEEL), after inspecting procedures adopted by Norte Energia, recognized the advanced performance of the company in dam prevention and safety actions.

It is worth noting that due to lack of knowledge on the rules of the power industry and energy marketing, the author of the article in question presented unfounded claims that the project is inefficient, which is simply not true. It must also be understood that power production is as predicted for this time of the year, taking into consideration periods with flows below the historical average. This fact was proven by Aneel. According to the agency, Brazil closed 2019 with installed power totaling 170,071 megawatts (MW), over 75% of which comes from renewable sources. Last year, the installed capacity increased to 7,246.41 MW, surpassing the goal of 5,781 MW.

Also according to Aneel, hydroelectric plants continue to be responsible for the majority of energy generated in Brazil, with a total of 4,839 MW from ventures inaugurated or completed last year. “Of this total, 4,755 MW were provided by large-sized hydroelectric plants, including Belo Monte, which completed its motorization phase with 3,667 MW injected into the network”, highlighted the agency in a statement released on 1/10/2020.

Finally, Norte Energia emphasizes the importance of the solid and crucial venture for Brazil’s power assurance and the concrete proof is portrayed in recent statements by the Operador Nacional do Sistema (ONS), which focus on the importance of Belo Monte HPP coming online in the Brazilian Power System.

Vitória do Xingu-PA, February 28, 2020.