Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Fine balance of energy and environment in power-hungry Brazil

Dom Phillips: Commentary

Is it possible for Brazil’s energy sector to pursue a middle way that will satisfy the market and the environmentalists? In the course of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s Government, 19 million people have been lifted out of poverty, but maintaining Brazil’s 4 per cent growth rate amid recession is no easy task and electricity consumption is growing faster than GDP. Part of the reason for this growth is that people in remote areas of the Amazon are receiving an electricity supply for the first time.
Brazil recently made the world’s largest oil discovery in 30 years, and looks set to sell it to the US. Yet it is also a world leader in ethanol production and gets 46 per cent of its energy from renewable sources, against a world average of 13 per cent.
Unlike other forms of emissions, hydroelectricity does not emit greenhouse gases, but the dam will eat up another 500sq km of rainforest. Between 1970 and 2009, 17.5 per cent of the Amazonian rainforest — once 4 million sq km — was lost. Ethanol production threatens it still more. Greenpeace argues that the country should look to wind power and the energy from sugar cane waste. “Mega-projects with great environmental impact are no longer an acceptable way to go,” says Marcelo Fortado, its executive director. “Brazil does not need Belo Monte.”
A 2009 government report backs this view. It said that an increase in the efficiency of electronic goods and a better environmental code would result in a cut in energy consumption by 2018, equivalent to installing a plant with capacity of 4.500 megawatts — 1.5 times that of Jirau, another of the 70 Brazilian hydroelectric plants in the offing.