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Increase in Social and Environmental Costs Halts Development of New Hydro-Electric Dams

01/09/2018 - 10h54

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TAÍS HIRATA
FROM SÃO PAULO

The social and environmental costs associated with the construction of major hydro-electric projects have nearly quadrupled in the last 20 years, according to a study by the Acende Brasil Institute. These costs have increased from 5.7% of total project costs in the 1990s to 20% between 2010 and 2014.

Costs that have gone up the most are related to the purchase of land, relocation of affected populations and the clean-up of reservoirs.

With ever increasing pressure from the general public, oversight and control has become more rigorous, which in turn has increased costs according to Alexandre Uhligm, the institute's director.

Social and environmental costs are much higher in hydro-electric plants than in other energy facilities. In thermal-electric installations, they represent only 1.9% of total costs.

In wind driven installations, the percentage is 3% while in solar generation facilities it represents only 1% according to data from EPE (a federal entity responsible for energy sector planning).

For Uhligm, the single greatest obstacle that hydro-electric projects face is the resistance put up by movements defending indigenous peoples, since the majority of projects require the flooding of areas that are demarcated for these populations.

Due to this major impediment, the space, figuratively and literally, for major new plants is running out.

Of the 250 GW (gigawatts) in potential hydro-electric conversion in the country, projects representing 100 GW have already been constructed while other projects representing an additional 100 GW are unlikely to be deployed, due to environmental licensing difficulties, according to Uhlig.

That leaves 50 GW in untapped theoretical potential for hydro-electric conversion - equivalent to 3.5 plants the size of the Itaipu installation.

Translated by LLOYD HARDER

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