For the president, those opposed to the power plant are a “blackout industry”
[Translation of an article from Hora do Povo of Brazil for April 28 concerning controversial plans to build a hydroelectric plant in the Amazonian region of Pará state. The project, supported by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, is being opposed by environmentalists, indigenous groups and by José Serra, until recently governor of São Paulo state and now presidential candidate for the center-right Social Democratic Party. Serra’s opposition is likely more a case of campaign opportunism than concern for the environment or for indigenous rights. See also “Equivocations of a 'people's' govnernment” below.]
On Monday, April 26, during his weekly radio program “Café com Presidente,” Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva responded to criticism from tucano [Social Democratic Party] candidate José Serra of construction of a hydroelectric plant at Belo Monte, in Pará state. For the president, opponents of the project are the same people who are “manipulating for another blackout in the country.” He said the plant will be the third largest hydroelectric plant in the world. “There will always be those who don’t want us to act because they hope for a national disaster so they can find somebody to blame,” Lula charged. “There were five years of study before authorization could be obtained. Now, at last, the project will be built,” the president declared.
Lula said the attempt to block the project is connected with what he called a “blackout industry.” “What we have here is a blackout industry, people who don’t want us to construct the necessary energy supply because they are manipulating for another blackout. That is so they can justify the blackout of 2001,” he charged. “The 2001 blackout was a result of incompetence and we are not going to have acts of incompetence,” he emphasized.
In a debate with businessmen in Minas Gerais, José Serra said last week that the government had made decisions on the project too quickly. On the “Brasil Urgente” program, on the Rede Bandeirante network, on Monday he argued again for delaying the power plant. “It has to be discussed more. There have to be more public hearings, we can’t substitute persuasion for consent,” the ticano candidate declared. Reminded by Luiz Datena, host of the program, that the Belo Monte power plant is a 30-year-old project and that it cannot be delayed fiurther, Serra, who was part of the FHC administration [Serra was minister of planning in the administration of Social Democratic Party President Fernando Henrique Cardoso] at the time of the 2001 blackout, changed the subject and began making other criticisms. Now the problem, he said, has become one of “state involvement in the project.”
Serra protested the presence of subsidiaries of Eletrobrás in the Belo Monte project. “There was talk of private capital and now we are seeing that it is the government,” Serra said. “I don’t trust that procedure,” he added. For the tucano, who did not manage on his own to privatize Cesp [the state-owned Companhia Energética de São Paulo] because the federal government blocked renewal of the concessions for the dams, those who have to stick with Belo Monte are the private groups, preferably foreign, as was the case with Eletropaulo, which, privatized by PSDB [the Social Democratic Party], was bought at auction by the US company AES [American Energy Services].
Tucano complaints about state involvement in Belo Monte surfaced because President Lula did not give in to the blackmail of private conglomerates that threatened to abandon the project and to make it unfeasible because they wanted to increase the price of a megawatt/hour. He declared on Thursday, April 22, that if need be he would build the project “solely with state funds.” And he could do that; after all, the BNDES [the government development bank] is going to finance 80 percent of the project. “Anybody can take part in the bidding and anybody can leave afterwards,” the president said. “There are no locks on the doors. And there are several doors. The only thing I have to say is this: we, the Brazilian state, as a public entity, will do only what it is necessary to do,” he emphasized.
Lula’s stance was decisive in guaranteeing the bidding and making feasible the initiation of the project in September. Companies that had applied pressure had to back down. “We had foreseen a price per megawatt/hour, as a minimum, of 83.00 reais [about 48 US dollars]. The companies that won offered approximately 78.00 reais per megawatt/hour. It is important for people to make a comparison so they will know what we are talking about: the Belo Monte plant will cost 78.00 reais per megawatt/hour; a petroleum-powered plant costs 150 reais; a gas-powered plant, 200 reais per megawatt/hour, more or less. Therefore, hydroelectric power is still the cheapest,” he concluded.
The president also mentioned manipulation by certain media concerning the bidding itself. “We had to overcome as many delays as came up in court. Now the opponents’ argument is that the price was too cheap. I find that incredible. We held an auction and for what? So that the best offer would win and the best offer is the price of energy by which the consumer gains. Suddenly the best offer wins and people start saying, ‘But it was an offer by small companies, the large ones dropped out.’ They dropped out because they wanted to. A contest is a contest,” he declared.
Concerning those who insist on construction of thermoelectric plants, which, besides being more expensive are much more polluting, the president said that “they are crazy people.” “We have a hydroelectric potential of practically 260,000 megawatts. If Brazil were to stop producing that and begin using thermoelectrics, powered by diesel, that would be an insane move against the whole struggle we have been making in the world on the climate question,” he concluded.