Brazil is planning to build 34 additional hydroelectric facilities in the Amazon by 2021 in an effort to increase Brazil’s national energy output by 50% or more.
Total cost for their construction is over $150 billion. Over 6,000 square kilometers of land will be flooded when the dams are finished. Rivers will be diverted, canals built, and roads constructed to accommodate the new development and re-arranging of the many natural water flows for human purposes.
The Jirau hydroelectric dam will feature the largest number of huge turbines in the world and is scheduled to be finished by 2015. Each of its 50 turbines could house a locomotive. The dam will span five miles of the Madeira River, the largest tributary of the Amazon.
About 18,000 workers are currently toiling away trying to finish the behemoth on schedule. This enormous dam is located in the Western jungle about 2,250 kilometres (1,400 miles) from Sao Paulo where the electricity will be received and used. Areas flooded by the project will no longer be accessible to locals.
Not all the dam projects are of such a colossal scale. Most are much smaller and will function as power sources for industrial sites, or silos. Some will simply help regulate water flows.
Brazil’s population growth rate has been slowing due to a number of factors, but their society is becoming more economically developed and power consumption has been increasing steadily. A recent analysis indicated energy demand is growing in parallel with GDP. One of Jirau’s directors said two enormous dams must be built each year in Brazil to keep up with energy demand.
Environmentalists are unhappy, however, given the massive swath of industrialised development taking place within the Amazon. They want Brazil to focus on developing solar and wind alternatives, rather than imposing human restrictions on natural resources like the Amazon Basin.
“This is a sort of 1950s development mentality that often proceeds in a very authoritarian way, in terms of not respecting human rights, not respecting environmental law, not really looking at the alternatives,” said Brent Millikan, the Brazil Program Director for the International Rivers Network.
Already residents are being forced to leave their homes and communities. Telma Santos Pinto, aged 53, said she had to leave her home of 36 years, receiving $18,000 as compensation from the companies building Jirau.
“The compensation was very, very low,” she said. “And we were obligated to accept that.”
Her town of Mutum Parana is now under water, one of many subsistence communities left to rot.