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Bolsonaro Revives Plan to Build Large-Scale Hydroelectric Dams in the Amazon

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – After a six-year auction hiatus for the supply of large hydroelectric power plants in the Amazon region, president Jair Bolsonaro has decided that it is time to restart building power plants in the area.

The plan surfaced on Wednesday, August 21st, during the announcement of a package of new privatizations, concessions, and auctions that the government intends to hold in the coming years.

In the list of projects that the government intends to promote in the energy sector, are the Bem Querer hydroelectric plants in Roraima, and Tabajara, in Rondônia.

The president has decided to revive proposals marked by severe environmental issues and controversy over indigenous lands. (Photo internet reproduction)

These two plants are long-standing ambitions of the electricity sector and have been in the federal government’s plan for many years, including under former presidents Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff.

However, they have not progressed further, due to the severe environmental impact they may entail, as well as issues related to indigenous lands.

The Bem Querer plant, which has a capacity of 650 megawatts (MW), would flood an area of 519 km², an area larger than the lake created by the controversial Belo Monte plant in Pará, with a total capacity of 11,233 MW². The project does not have an environmental license and directly involves indigenous land.

The Tabajara plant, with 400 MW, would cover 96.3 km² of Amazon rainforest in the region of Machadinho D’Oeste, an area in Rondônia with environmental conservation units. The venture is part of the Eletronorte and Furnas project portfolio, although it also lacks environmental licensing.

The region of Machadinho is among the areas within the Amazon most affected by irregular deforestation and illegal land grabbing. The project, which has been included in the Growth Acceleration Program (PAC) list of projects, has been on the drawing board for years but is not progressing due to environmental licensing issues.

The plans further included a smaller plant, the 140 MW Castanheira hydroelectric plant, which would be built in Mato Grosso. By law, the government cannot erect plants that directly impact indigenous lands or permanent preservation areas.

Between 2003 and 2013, the federal government succeeded in auctioning off large projects in the Amazon. During this decade, plants such as Belo Monte, Jirau, Santo Antônio, São Manoel, Teles Pires, and Colíder were auctioned.

Other enterprises, such as the Tapajós plants, however, did not progress due to their severe environmental impact. The preservation issues were also obstacles to the projects that Bolsonaro now intends to auction.

The government further announced the offer of an area of 10,000 hectares for kaolin exploration, with its auction scheduled to be held next year.

In the package announced by the government, future concessions of national parks were mentioned: Lençóis Maranhenses (Maranhão), Jericoacoara (Ceará), and Iguaçu (Paraná).

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