By Luciano Costa
SAOPAULO (Reuters) – Brazil’s government has resumed studies to build a large hydroelectric power plant in the northern border state Roraima, which currently relies on the shaky Venezuelan grid, officials at state energy planning agency EPE told Reuters.
Roraima, the only state not connected to Brazil’s national grid, has faced repeated shortages of the electricity it buys from Venezuela, which is suffering a severe economic crisis.
Roraima has not received power from Venezuela since March 7, the Brazilian Energy Ministry said on Tuesday.
The Roraima dam project, named Bem Querer, would likely demand investments of around 6 billion reais ($1.55 billion). Its design is controversial due to the vast area that would be flooded — projected at 519 square kilometres (128,250 acres), nearly the size of the U.S. Pacific island of Guam.
“In our opinion, it would be the worst Amazon hydroelectric project, if it is built,” said Ciro Campos, a researcher at environmental group Instituto Socioambiental (ISA).
The environmental licensing process for the dam may kick off next year and a construction license could be ready for private investors in 2021, said Elisângela Medeiros de Almeida, EPE’s environmental superintendent.
New hydroelectric power plants in the Amazon have been off the table in recent years due to the political blowback against the enormous Belo Monte dam on the Xingu River in Pará state, projected to have a capacity of 11,233 megawatts when finished.
Despite being considered crucial to guarantee future power supply in the region, Belo Monte has met with fierce opposition from local indigenous groups and the global environmentalist movement, including “Avatar” director James Cameron.
However, Brazil’s Environment Minister Ricardo Salles said on Monday the government would be open to evaluating new hydro power projects in the Amazon on their merits.
The proposed Bem Querer project would go live only in 2027. Until then, Roraima will depend on thermal generation while it is not connected to the national grid, something that could happen with a project for a new power transmission line coming from Manaus, capital of neighbouring Amazonas state.
(Reporting by Luciano Costa; Writing by Marcelo Teixeira; Editing by Marguerita Choy)