World Commission on Dams- WCD/2000 estimated that one million
people were displaced from their land due to dam construction
This is the equivalent of 300,000 families.
Eighty million people have already been affected around
Data from MAB (Affected by Dams Movement) show that,
for each 100 dislocated families, 70 do not receive any kind
FOR THE PURPOSE OF CAPITALIST EXPLOITATION
Society of consumption
a few authors in the electricity sector do not separate the
electric matrix debate from the debate about what kind of
society we want to build.
The Affected by Dams Movement (MAB) understands that
having this debate from just an economic and/or expert vision
This perspective benefits only large economic groups.
“Energy is a structural factor in society, because it
defines and influences economic, financial, social,
environmental, cultural, and political aspects.” (MORET,
has generated a large concentration of wealth.
A small number of the large economic groups control the
world energy market.
The majority of these corporations have large banks as
75% of all the world’s energy is consumed by the United
States and Europe.
Furthermore, these countries seek to gain power over
the sources of energy that still exist, through territorial
and economic control, war, and energy infrastructure.
South America, the IIRSA project, funded by the Interamerican
Development Bank (IBD) and the Andes Foment Corporation (CAF),
supports the construction of several hydroelectric plants,
roads, waterways, airports, train tracks, etc.
In the Amazon alone, this project initially funded the
construction of 10 hydroelectric plants, 14 ports, 8,000 km of
roads, 2,000 km of train tracks, 3 waterways, 4 airports, and
2 gas lines. In Brazil, the BNDES (National Development Bank)
is largely responsible for the financing of companies in the
electric sector—363 projects that benefit large corporations
are financed with resources from the Bank.
The Dam Industry
assumes larger and larger
participation and importance as a source of energy, as is
seen in the graph below.
growth of electricity usage makes it so that the dam industry
(technology, turbines, distribution equipment, construction
company, construction materials…) has become one of the most
important industries in the world, along with the oil, auto,
and war industries.
from the World Commission on Dams-2000 show the construction
of 45,000 large dams across the world, 2/3 of which are
constructed in developing countries.
Dams in Brazil
Brazil, the production of energy that comes from
hydroelectric dams represents more than 79%.
There are approximately 2,000 dams in Brazil.
Plan 2015 foresees the construction of more than 494 large
to Eletrobrás (National Electricity Company), there is also
the potential that could be exploited in PCHs (Small Central
Hydroelectrics), around 942 new dams.
Today, according to information from the Ministry of
the Environment (MME), 50 large dams are under construction
and, in the next three years under Lula’s government, 70
more large dams are being projected.
to a survey of the Brazilian hydroelectric potential carried
out by ELETROBRÁS, 64% is found in the Amazon region,
principally in the Tocantins, Araguaia, Xingu, and Tapajós
there are several projects in this region, the largest being
the Belo Monte dam on the Xingu river in Pará (that
includes indigenous land), and the Santo Antonio and Jirau
dams on the Madeira river in Roraima.
get an idea of the dimension of the dam industry in Brazil,
the invoicing of these companies from generating energy in
2003 was around R$18 billion and in distribution it was R$30
largest portion of these resources were sent abroad in the
form of profit remittance.
The privatization of water and energy
There are two concepts of energy. One
of them understands energy as an essential service and
therefore necessary to the entire population.
The other sees energy as a commodity to be used to
make a profit. This
is the concept that is being applied in Brazil.
More than 70% of the distribution market of energy
has already been privatized, basically with public money
(from BNDES and Pension Funds).
In the production sector, the Lula administration’s
proposal for the Private/Public Partnerships (PPP) maintains
the privatization model.
Water is also being privatized together with
the lake of a dam is formed, the company that owns the dam
begins to define what can be done with the water from the
lake. In many
cases, the lake is enclosed and the local population is
prevented from using the water.
Public Interest vs. Private Interest
Dam construction is justified as being in the public’s interest or as a
way to generate “development.”
In the majority of cases, the government emits an
“expropriation by public utility” act, which requires
the community to remove itself from the land.
However, energy is treated as a commodity, to benefit
large economic groups.
The World Commission On Dams (WCD/2000) estimated
that 1 million people were expelled from their land due to
dam construction in Brazil.
This is equivalent to 300,000 families.
Eighty million people have already been affected
around the world. Data
from MAB (Affected by Dams Movement) show that, for each 100
dislocated families, 70 do not receive any kind of
The families that stay on the shore of the dam lake
usually live in poor conditions, not to mention the
destruction of fishing and agricultural activities.
Violence, prostitution, and competition for jobs also
increase, because many workers coming from “outside” to
construct the dam end up staying in the area.
studies estimate that in the next three years, dam
construction will displace 100,000 families—a larger number
than was predicted to be relocated in this period by the
agrarian reform program.
Dams and the Environment
is no such thing as clean energy.
To some degree, all sources of energy damage the
authors have presented hydroelectric energy as a “clean,
renewable, and cheap” source of energy.
This is not true.
main gas that causes the greenhouse effect is carbon gas.
Data from 1999 show that there were 315 million tons of
carbon gas emissions from energy sources in Brazil. In dams,
this occurs from the decomposition of organic material,
emitting carbon and methane gas.
from the World Commission On Dams-2000 show that 60% of the
water paths were degraded or fragmented by dam construction.
In the 34,000 km² of fertile land that was flooded by
reservoirs from constructed dams, which corresponds to 3.4
million hectares, there was a lot of forest, biodiversity, and
ENVIRONMENTAL FRAUD OF THE BARRA GRANDE DAM
at a concrete example of how social aspects of dam
construction are treated. The consulting company ENGEVIX,
elaborated an Impact Study on the Environment (EIA) of the
Barra Grande Dam in Rio Pelotas, the division between the
states of Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina. In the study,
the vegetation that was to be flooded by the future lake was
described as scrub. The License of Installation was requested from IBAMA due to
the possession of this EIA. This was done before the bidding,
which was not a very common thing at that time. IBAMA said
that once this request was made, the procedure was to verify
the EIA data in the field. The technical reports claim that, on the day scheduled to
survey the area by plane, the plane “fell” when it was
still on the runway, and the fieldwork was not performed.
Even though the fact-checking had not been done, the
license was emitted in 1998.
The project already had a license when it went up for
bidding, and the BAESA consortium, formed by the ALCOA
CORREA, COMPANHIA BRASILEIRA DE ALUMINIO-CBA and DME
companies, won. After 80% of the dam was constructed, the
company requested a license to deforest, which is what
unmasked the truth: approximately 52% of the area to be
flooded was made of primary forest and of forest under
advanced study of regeneration.
of the principal reserves of Araucária is located there.
Much of the forest will be cut down, or will end up
under the lake. Applying
the politics of fait accompli (80% of the project completed),
the MME, the BAESA,, and the Federal Public Ministry made a
deal that the company could deforest the area in exchange for
the purchase of another area. Once again the environment lost
to economic power. The
EIA, BAESA, and the IBAMA employees involved in the fraud were
not taken to court.
Damming and the price of energy
recent study carried out by the Institute of Strategic
Development in the Electricity Sector (ILUMINA), which
surveyed the price of energy in 31 countries, demonstrated
that Brazil has the fifth most expensive energy tariff. The
weight of this tariff on a Brazilian worker’s salary is much
larger than in other countries.
Other countries like Canada and Norway, which also
produce electric energy from hydroelectricity, are 29th
and 30th, respectively.
again it is proven: this model concentrates wealth, because
energy leaves the dams with a median price of R$100.00 and
gets to the people’s houses with a price of more than
who are most harmed are residential consumers, compared with
industrial consumers. From
1995 to 2004 the residential tariff had a real increase (not
counting inflation—INPC) of close to 50%, while for
industrial consumers the increase was 23%.
not everyone pays for such expensive energy.
Large companies have subsidies (a discount) on the
example, the Tucuruí dam in Pará, built with public money,
supplies energy to ALBRÁS, ALUNORTE and
ALUMAR in the aluminum industry.
industries, all foreign-owned, buy energy from Tucuruí for
$23, much lower than the cost of production.
The subsidy alone that is given to ALCOA, a North
American company that owns Albrás and Alumar, is more than
$200 million per year. This
subsidy, which as been provided for 20 years, could have been,
for example, spent on the relocation of 514,000 families by
the Program for Agrarian Reform.
Energy for what? For whom?
graph shows how energy is consumed in Brazil.
We can observe that the largest consumption is done by
the industrial sector. Within
this sector we can point out those that are electrointensive
(i.e. those that consume the most energy.
These industries are: ironworks, aluminum, paper and
characteristic of these companies, besides being
high-consumption companies, is that they are big polluters,
they produce for export (see Table 1), and they produce few
jobs (see Graph 3).
by industrial production sector for internal production and
Sectors of Heavy Industry
for the Domestic Market (%)
for the External Market (%)
BRACELPA (1997,1998); ABAL (2000, 2001); MME (1997).
table above shows that Brazil is one of the largest exporters
of subsidized energy in the form of aluminum, iron alloy,
paper, cellulose, and other products with high energy demand.
In practice, this means that these raw materials are exported
and return in industrialized form.
This model contributes very little to the development
of the nation.
thousand kWh of energy are needed to produce one ton of
aluminum. This is equivalent to nine years of the energy
consumption of one family. However, the same electrointensive
industry produces practically no jobs. While a food industry
produces 70.2 jobs per GWh consumed, the aluminum industry
produces 2.7 jobs per GWh consumed.
While energy is utilized this way, 5,074,400 residential homes
do not have access to electric energy in Brazil, which means
approximately 20,297,000 inhabitants.
is possible to attend to the water and energy necessities of
Brazilians through a different model, without displacing the
population to slums and the outside fringes of cities, and
without destroying our rivers, forests, and fauna. This can be
done without handing over the control of our water, energy,
and land to large economic groups.
Below we present a few cheap and viable alternatives.
of power plants that are over 20 years old:
To repotentialize means to reform, redimension,
modernize equipment, and reactivate abandoned hydroelectrics
or turbines. In a recent edition of the book “The
Repotentialization of Hydroelectric Mills as Alternatvies to
Increase the Stock of Energy in Brazil with Environmental
Protection,” the researchers Célio Bermann, José R C. da
Veiga and Georges Souto Rocha, describe how the
repotentialization of old hydroelectric power plants is the
best alternative to make more energy available in the electric
system. It has low cost, there is no environmental impact, and
it can be done quickly.
We could add 7,600 MW to the system, rehabilitating and
promoting repairs and improvements in the power plants that
The cost per MW of these repairs would be 1/5 to 1/3
the cost of a MW in a new power plant.
of losses in the electric system: The Brazilian electric
system has operational and technical losses on the order of
If Brazil adopted an index of losses of 6%, considered
the international standard, the electric system would have an
increase of equivalent to 6,500 MW of power installed (or more
than half of the Itaipu power plant, which has 12, 600 MW).
of Energy from Biomass: We could increase installed potential
by 3,000 MW just by using used sugar cane stalks.
We could also utilize rice hulls, sawdust, and paper
and cellulose residue.
The energy crisis of 2002 showed that we can save electric
According to Carlos Vainer, a professor at UFRJ
(University of Rio de Janeiro), the problem is that, since
energy became a commodity with which to make a profit,
companies are not interested in promoting a serious plan to
use less energy.
On the contrary, there is an incentive to increase
of Wind Power: Brazil has wind power potential on the order of
An area of great potential is the Northeast (Ceará and
Rio Grande do Norte). The states of Rio de Janeiro, Paraná
and Rio Grande do Sul also have good wind energy potential.
generation through solar energy and Photovoltaic: Brazil has
privileged places due to insolation. The São Francisco River
valley has exceptional conditions. This would be a good
alternative for farmers who are far from the distribution
alternatives mean an increase of 40% in the power
available in Brazil.
We could avoid an energy crisis without
building new dams.
of these challenges indicate the necessity to delve into the
study and debate about different ways to produce and use
energy, and about our development model.
We are being bombarded with news of a new threat of an
This encourages the construction of new dams, and gives
guarantees of profit to private corporations, while ignoring
the social and environmental impact.
are a few proposals for the formulation of a new energy
policy. These are:
Suspend the subsidies given to large corporations;
Guarantee water and energy as national resources. These are
strategic resources that can guarantee our sovereignty.
We need to stop the privatization and the
commodification of this sector;
Guarantee electric energy and water for all people in the
Consider popular participation in the planning,
decision-making, and execution of energy projects;
Guarantee that no dam be built without the prior informed
consent of the affected population;
Execute the debt of the privatized electric companies and take
back public state control over the sector;
Prioritize social and environmental issues, rescuing the
social and environmental aspects in the dams built and under
construction through the reparation of the affected
Correct the existing distortions in the energy sector, ending
the waste in transmission, distribution, and consumption of
Prioritize investments in research, development, and
implementation of alternative sources of energy, respecting
economic and sustainable development criteria;
Have a price policy, with low cost to the Brazilian people,
especially for low-income workers.
A Crise do Modelo Energético: Construir um outro modelo é
Possível. Brasília-DF: MAB, 2001.
Célio. Energia no Brasil:para quê? Para quem?Crise e
Alternativas para um país
sustentável. São Paulo.Livraria da Física: FASE,
Barragens e Desenvolvimento: Um novo Modelo para Tomada de
Decisões. Relatório da Comissão Mundial de Barragens.
O Novo Modelo do Setor Elétrico. 2004
A Repotenciação de Usinas Hidrelétricas como
Alternativas Para o Aumento da Oferta de Energia no
Brasil com Proteção Ambiental. 2004
Marco Antonio Trierveiler, Gilberto Cervinski, Luiz Dalla
Costa and Eduardo Zem are members of the National Coordenation
of the Movement of People Affected by Dams (Coordenação
Nacional do Movimento dos Atingidos Por Barragens- MAB).