RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Belo Monte Dam made international headlines again this week as a protest caught the attention of media outlets and rallied opposition to the controversial program. The dam project falls under the heading of ‘hydroelectricity’ – referring to electricity generated by hydropower; the most widely used form of renewable energy.
According to our friends at BP, global energy consumption grew by 5.6 percent in 2010, the largest increase (in percentage terms) since 1973. Chinese energy consumption grew by 11.2 percent, and China surpassed the U.S. as the world’s largest energy consumer.
Oil remains the world’s leading fuel, at 33.6 percent of global energy consumption, but oil continued to lose market share for the 11th consecutive year. In addition to being costly to war over, there are many critics warning of the harmful emissions from fossil fuel combustion, including pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitric oxide, carbon monoxide.
Other leading fuel options like coal, cause indirect health effects of coal emissions. Nuclear power is considered ‘clean’ but generates toxic nuclear waste, and creates dangers like … nuclear leaks.
This brings us back to hydropower – clean, renewable energy – and the Belo Monte Dam planned for the Xingu River in the state of Pará, Brazil. The expected capacity of the project is over 11,000 megawatts (MW), which would make it the second-largest hydroelectric dam complex in Brazil and the world’s third-largest.
Currently, only three dam programs generate over 10,000 MW in the world; Three Gorges Dam at 22,500 MW (China), Itaipu Dam at 14,000 MW (located on the border between Brazil and Paraguay), and Guri Dam at 10,200 MW (Venezuela).
So what’s the problem? Well it seems there are a whole lot of people that will be uprooted, displaced and generally have their world overrun. Then there is the environmental concerns – a project of this scale stomps a big footprint.
Of course there is the money. Initial government estimates for the project was more then US$10 billion, but more recent industry analysts say that cost could easily exceed US$16 billion.
This and fears of inefficient or insufficient output due to seasonal river flow variations have many concerned the project, and dam complex, will creep further upriver. Exasperating the civil, financial and economic flaws, causing very large long-term damage.