The President of the Brazilian public company EPE (Energy Research Company), Maurício Tolmasquim
, declared this Thursday that just a “small minority that does not accept any form of hydroelectric power,” is against the building of Belo Monte. The declaration was given in an interview over the phone to the international press, after a few days of protests against the major enterprise stopped Brasília
EPE is the public company responsible for the planning of the projects for generation of electric power in Brazil. Tolmasquim was designated by the government to interface with the press after an avalanche of criticisms made against the hydroelectric powerplant since early January, when the license for its building was granted by IBAMA, the federal government’s environmental agency.
O Eco Amazonia was invited to take part in the round of interviews due to its being a part of the network of environmental websites of the British newspaper The Guardian
During the interview, Tolmasquim tried to rebuff all criticisms made by organizations and the community against this major undertaking. Although hundreds of indigenous people took part in a protest in Brasilia last February 8th and handed over a petition demanding the cancelling of Belo Monte containing 600 thousand signatures, he insisted that all interested parties were heard and that the inhabitants of Pará, the state in which the powerplant will be built, defend its construction. “Four technical seminars were conducted in Belém (the state’s capital), 30 meetings were held with villages of indigenous people”, mentioned the President of EPE.
Aside from that, he ensured everyone that the greatest public hearing ever conducted in the country’s history took place during the evaluation of the environmental license for Belo Monte. “In the public audience in Altamira [the city which will be partially flooded by the plant’s reservoir], 6 thousand people took part”, he said.
According to him, the consultation with the communities in Xingu led to substantial changes in the project’s characteristics. The main alteration, he countered, took place with regard to the relationship between generation and installed power. Belo Monte will be built with a power of 11 thousand MW, but will generate, on the average, only 40% of this total.
In the words of Tolmasquim, the percentage is “just a little below” the Brazilian average of 55% because the government “does not compromise on power generation without sustainability”. In practical terms, this meant the reduction of the Belo Monte reservoir in relation to its original design in the 80’s. Even so, the communities of indigenous people that were present in Brasilia complained especially of the upstream impact that the damming of the Xingu River can cause, diminishing fisheries and eventually worsening the quality of water.
“Belo Monte will be the only one”
The president of EPE also said that the recently aired criticisms that other dams will be built in the Xingu River are no longer valid. Last year, for instance, the organizations AmazonWatch, Movimento Xingu Sempre Vivo and International Rivers Network released an animation video narrated by actress Sigourney Weaver in which two new powerplants were mentioned as part of the Belo Monte project
. But according to Tolmasquim, the National Council for Power Policies has already approved a resolution – sanctioned by the then President Lula – that there would only be one hydroelectric powerplant in the Xingu River.
Even with the guarantees given by the government that Belo Monte will be the only one to be built, for many of the project’s critics, the accounting doesn’t balance out if more powerplants are not built in the Xingu River. The project up to this moment has been calculated to lie between 19 billion reais and 30 billion reais (or between 12 to 26 billion dollars) and will operate at just 40% of its capacity. The greater part of these resources will be provided by the state development bank (BNDES) and even specialists with no relation whatsoever with the environmental sector have been asking themselves what is the advantage for the government to embrace such an idea.
For Tolmasquim, the main benefit of Belo Monte is the clean and cheap energy that will be made available to the Brazilian market. “Belo Monte enables Brazil to meet two goals: to provide electric power to boost economic growth while at the same time avoiding emissions of greenhouse gases”, he noted.
According to the numbers from the Brazilian government, the construction of this mammoth powerplant will avoid the emission of 19 million tons of carbon that would be generated by the production in equal amounts of energy in a thermoelectric powerplant that employed natural gas.
Brazil, says the executive, has a power surplus only until 2014. Something like 5 thousand MW on the average of power could ensure the country a growth of 7% per year for the next four year period. Towards this, Belo Monte designed to be ready for operation in 2015 seems to be the government’s answer to provide energy to their development project on the long term.
Public attorneys from the state of Pará are not on the same wavelength and at this moment have already filed seven lawsuits against the Belo Monte powerplant, the main one classifying the environmental license given to the enterprise as illegal, because not all of the countermeasures required by IBAMA were met by the building consortium. “We feel that the dossier is sufficiently robust to be approved. But the final word is from the Department of Justice”, ensures the President of EPE.
Click here to read the complete interview by Maurício Tolmasquim
Gustavo Faleiros is the editor of environmental news website ((o))Eco.