Constructed between the years of 1978 and 1982 with the main purpose of producing electricity to supply Brazil and Paraguay, the Itaipu Hydroelectric Dam is still a vital symbol of clean energy production in the current modern industrial era.
Itaipu, meaning “the sounding stone” in the Guarani language, offers the second biggest amount of electricity in the world, providing 14,000 MW of installed power, which represents 8.7% of the energy consumed in Brazil and 86.4% of Paraguay’s energy. This amount is only behind the Chinese Three Gorges Dam in China.
Located by the Paraná River, the eighth most extensive river in the world, the dam occupies an area of approximately 1350 km2. To understand its power and size, it can be compared to the entire urban area of the city of São Paulo. The height of the main dam is approximately 196 meters, which is the equivalent of a 65-story building, and the amount of iron and steel used in its bones could be used to build 370 Eiffel Towers.
These are numbers that, when combined, indicate the importance of the dam and how its existence is paramount to both: the production of energy and the economies of these countries.
Its origins were somewhat controversial. The contract that was supposed to lay the groundwork for the Itaipu Hydroelectric Dam was first considered during a period when both countries were under military dictatorship and had an insurmountable number of border disputes between themselves.
These conflicts only ended when the Act of Iguaçu was signed in 1966, leading to the Treaty of Itaipu being signed in 1973. However, a new dispute arose, as the construction of the dam could also potentially affect the water flows of the Paraná River, which shares borders with Argentina as well. The conflict was resolved in 1979, with several requirements regarding water flow between the three countries in the implementation of the hydraulic resource of the river.
The Treaty of Itaipu mentioned the creation of an entity that would be co-owned by the two countries, named Itaipu Binacional, in order to provide fair conditions for the river’s exploitation by both countries. The equity is 50% for each country, plus the definition of the minimum number of generating units, which could be sold to each other in case of need.
At the time, there was a global oil crisis happening and since water was abundant in both countries, hydroelectric power seemed a more reliable source of energy to invest in. However, the construction of the dam wasn’t only calm waters.
The construction caused an entire Vila to be submerged by an artificial lake. Over 65 thousand people paid the price of being displaced from their communities since, at the time, neither Brazil nor Paraguay had legislation to support the protection of biodiversity.
This, however, was a turning point to make sure that the dam followed several rules in order to be safe and give back to its surrounding communities.
Measures in Clean Energy and Itaipu
Itaipu is very vocal about the “how” behind the action against climate change. The organization behind the dam—Itaipu Binacional—has implemented CO2 sequestration measures by using biomass processes since 2010, when a study provided data on the species used in the “forest recovery process throughout the area involved.”
Since then, a calculation of the carbon sequestration using carbon fixation and its emissions in the extent of Itaipu’s protected green areas has been used to produce a net balance every year to make it more manageable. With these results, the maintenance of the vegetation can be more straightforward, helping with the results of more carbon fixation in the atmosphere.
Moreover, the entity is committed to the United Nations SDG 13 Goals, more specifically Goals 13.1 and 13.3, as the quantification of emissions and their hopes to improve these numbers are directly connected to awareness, education, and the institutional framework to combat climate change.
The Brazilian government uses part of the proceeds from energy sales to invest in the social and environmental aspects of the local community. The areas that see the most impact from the dam are legally required to receive the largest share of revenue.
Itaipu Binacional is also responsible for activities to help the local population understand and learn about water quality, agricultural production, support of indigenous communities, health services, and many more.
Truthfully, the construction of the dam has brought a few changes to the ecosystem around its area. A flood was responsible for the reallocation of communities and changes in the local fauna, but there is hope that such issues can one day be regarded as small when compared to the changes in the environment, helping to delay the results of climate change and helping our world to become more sustainable for future generations.
Energy is, of course, something that has become inherent to the human condition, but perhaps by becoming more aware of its importance, we can make sure that it is also a root that can help the environment.
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