Santo Antonio, Jirau hydroelectric plants under fire as Madeira River floods

Jirau Hydropower Project

Flooding in Brazilian state Rondonia has caused the country's federal court to order new environmental impact studies for the 3,568-MW Santo Antonio and 3,750-MW Jirau hydroelectric projects.

Both run-of-river facilities are located along the Madeira River, which, according to reports, has reached record highs with levels peaking at almost 19 meters this past week during a period of heavy rainfall.

Courts on Monday ordered Jirau operator GDF Suez SA and Santo Antonio operators Eletrobras and Cemig to redo the environmental impact studies on the basis that the plants' dams might be causing the flooding.

Federal and state prosecutors also sought suspension of the projects' licenses until the companies could show the dams aren't responsible for the floods. The court, however, dismissed that proposal, though it is requiring the operators to provide food, temporary housing and transportation for those displaced by the Madeira.

The companies now have 90 days to show they are working on their new studies. reported Jirau's first turbine units went into commercial operation in September of this past year. The project has the distinction of being the largest renewable plant recognized by the United Nation's Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as a Clean Development Mechanism.

Meanwhile, Santo Antonio -- located upstream from Jirau -- received authorization from Brazil's Agencia Nacional de Energia Eletricqa (ANEEL) to begin commercial operation of its 13th turbine last June. The plant will eventually house 44 turbines.

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