Thomas White Global Investing
Brazil Stamp
October 15, 2010
A Postcard from the Americas
Brazil: Powering Ahead to Meet Future Needs

A hydroelectric plant

Around 85% Brazil’s electricity is generated by hydroelectric plants.

In Brazil, all talk has been focused on the intriguing October 31 Presidential runoff elections, pitting Dilma Rousseff against Jose Serra. With such intense media attention on what has been a fascinating and often unpredictable race, other topics worthy of a discussion have gone barely noticed.

But in a little announcement, Mauricio Tolmasquim, the president of Energy Resource Corporation (EPE), Brazil’s state-owned research corporation, quietly unveiled that the much-awaited building rights bidding for as many as 10 hydroelectric power stations would take place this year. In December, to be precise.

Brazil of course, is the B in the BRIC, that famous acronym coined by Goldman Sachs for Brazil, Russia, India and China – countries expected to drive growth in the next few decades. The Latin American giant’s economic surge has been one of the reasons for outgoing President Lula’s immense popularity. And as the country grows, so too does its demand for energy. At the present rate of growth, Brazil needs to add around 6,000MW to 7,000MW of capacity annually, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Small wonder then that Brazil is in a hurry to ramp up electrical capacity. Tolmasquim has been quoted as saying that the ‘timeframe is very short,’ referring to the fact that these projects require first an environmental license and then approval from the Funai Foundation, which seeks to protect the rights of Brazil’s indigenous people. Tolmasquim has reason to be wary. In April this year, a consortium of nine companies won the rights to build the gigantic Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, stated to be the world’s third largest – but that initiative has been mired in controversy, with conservationists stating that the project would cause untold harm to the environment.

Belo Monte will add a colossal 11,000MW to Brazil’s electric power capacity, but it is also expected to displace 20,000 people and flood more than 231 square miles of land. The proposed future hydroelectric projects also flirt with the region’s delicate ecosystem, with four dams slated to be erected on the Teles Pires River, near the southern tip of the Amazon forests, and five on the Parnaiba River. The last of them, the Santo Antonio do Jari dam has managed to avoid the kind of controversy that other hydroelectric projects in Latin America have drawn. Yet, given that the Amazon ranks high on the ecology scale, it is unclear just how many of these proposed projects will move ahead without interruption. Perhaps anticipating that, Tolmasquim admitted that the EPE is looking at alternative sources too: thermal energy has been on the government’s backburner for a while now, but Tolmasquim is also looking to revive wind power projects. More hydroelectric plants are also apparently being planned.

It is clear that Brazil has a goal – it is growing, and its needs are to be met. Regardless of whether Rousseff or Serra come to power, they most certainly will inherit a power-hungry economy that is already one of the world’s most dynamic. Electric times ahead, indeed.

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