Opinion, by Alfonso Stefanini
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Energy is at the center of every country’s policy. The percentages that form Brazil’s electric energy matrix vary from source to source, and with the information available to those not hacking into President Dilma Rousseff ‘s e-mails, one can say that about 70 percent of it comes from hydroelectricity. On the other hand, wind power corresponds to close to two percent of the total installed electricity capacity. According to sources, wind energy is more cost effective than dirty powered, hydrocarbon thermal electric plants per kilowatt-hour offered, but still less attractive than large hydroelectric dam energy.
That being said, the quixotic illusion of intimidating, awe-sized windmills having an impact on people lives is now a reality. The unlucky migrating birds and bats bouncing of the blades can assure it is for real, but with the new technological advancement in the creation of bigger wind turbines, we can assume with a better level of certainty that the slow and powerful torque of the moving blades of the new generation generators will spare more flying kamikazes, and at the same time produce more energy than the shadow of the former self. Ground vibration, cement and water used for anchoring the towers, and the hypnotic sound of the moving parts are still issues to be reckoned with, and this is why environmental impact studies are indeed necessary in the planning of a wind farm project.
Brazil has the strongest and fairest winds of the globe. By installing new generation wind turbines that reach 50 to 100 meters in height, the country could become a leader in the world’s wind energy market by harnessing its full capacity.
Since the major blackouts of 1999 and 2001, the Brazilian government has pushed its energy policy to incorporate more funding for alternative energy programs directed at wind and biomass, but fossil fuel thermal plants have also gained from the quasi-democratic government sponsored electric energy auctions. Brazil’s electricity and energy demands grow at about five percent a year, through good times or recessions, and avoiding blackouts is mandatory for politicians wanting to remain in power for more terms by not letting the public go hungry for electrons and scaffolds. The repercussions of not meeting the needs of the populous of a federal republic are a bad, very bad election.
PROINFA, the government’s Incentive Program for Alternative Energy and the Atlas of Brazilian Potential Wind Power created a grand spark for wind energy that helped this alternative sector significantly. From 2010 to 2011 the installed wind power grew 24 percent across the country. The next energy auctions scheduled for November 2013 will have over 600 wind power projects pitching for a 20-year purchase contract from the government.
A major glitch in getting whichever energy source to the Brazilian consumer has been the lack of transmission lines. The problem is particularly acute in the northeast of the country, which holds over 50 percent of Brazil’s onshore wind measured potential rated at 150 GW. Wind farms will be inaugurated this year without transmission lines, according to the ABEEólica, the Association for Wind Power Plants, and this is also true for dozens of thermal power plants.
Fortunately, this year the Brazilian Electricity Regulatory Agency made it obligatory for any wind farm enterprise to have grid lines in place prior to locking down an auction. According to Brazilian Energy Minister, Mr. Lobão (or Mr. Big Wolf in Portuguese), the government commitment is to install 2 GW of wind power capacity every year through 2020.
It’s guesstimated that the timeframe to build a wind farm is considerably shorter than building a hydroelectric dam, which can take up to five years, but longer than a thermal power plant that can be hoisted up in six months. Environmental licenses have strict deadlines in Brazil and adequate planning is a must in preventing delays in the construction of alternative energy such as wind. After all time is money.
Alfonso Stefanini has an MA in International Environmental Policy from the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California and a BA from Hampshire College. Alfonso lives in Rio de Janeiro, and he can be reached at: Ecobrasilis@gmail.com.