In a surprise move, the Brazilian government has announced that the era of building big hydroelectric dams in the Amazon basin, long criticized by environmentalists and indigenous groups, is ending. “We are not prejudiced against big [hydroelectric] projects, but we have to respect the views of society, which views them with restrictions,” Paulo Pedrosa, the Executive Secretary of the Ministry of Mines and Energy, told O Globo newspaper.
According to Pedrosa, Brazil has the potential to generate an additional 50 gigawatts of energy by 2050 through the building of new dams but, of this total, only 23 percent would not affect in some way indigenous land, quilombolas (communities set up by runaway slaves) and federally protected areas. The government, he says, doesn’t have the stomach to take on the battles.
Pedrosa went on: “Nor are we disposed to take actions that mask the costs and the risks [of hydroelectric projects].” This statement seems to refer to the actions of previous governments, particularly under President Dilma Rousseff and the Workers’ Party (PT), which made it difficult to evaluate the real expense and environmental impact of large dams, such as Belo Monte on the Xingu River. It was only after construction of this particular dam that the huge cost — financial, social and environmental — was fully revealed.
That’s one reason such mega-projects began meeting with a rising storm of protest. For example, in 2016, after many indigenous demonstrations, the Rousseff administration suspended the building of a large dam on the Tapajós…