Brazil rushes to get power plants on line

RIO de JANEIRO, Apr.23 — Brazil’s Mines and Energy Ministry has drafted an emergency plan to build 13 gas-fired electricity plants operating in simple cycle to increase power supply in Brazil and avoid imminent power rationing.

The plants, which are in early stages of construction, will be located close to consumer markets and transmission grids offering two major advantages compared to hydroelectric plants, less environmental impact and a short-term rate of return on the investment, said the Mines and Energy Ministry.

The low rainfall rate in the past 2 years, and increased power consumption after the Real economic stabilization plan, which tamed hyperinflation, created growing concern with possible blackouts, since 90% of Brazil’s electric power supply is generated by hydroelectric plants.

The plants are part of a plan to build 56 power plants producing about 20,000 Mw of power by 2003. Most new thermoelectric plants will use natural gas as fuel. Power plants are expected to become the main consumers of gas in Brazil.

The risk of electric power energy rationing announced by the ministry to start on June 1 has already changed the routine of several companies in Brazil’s northeastern region and in Minas Gerais state. A local chemical company has said it will invest about $25,000 to buy a wind-powered turbine.

Petroquimica Uniao SA, a major petrochemical company, will start switching from electric power to compressor pumps equipped with vapor turbines. The company said it expects to save 2-3 Mw in case of rationing.

Some thermoelectric plants will produce electricity and steam both meeting the needs of several industries at the same time, added the ministry.

Brazil needs electric supplies equivalent to a new Itaipu power dam (12,600 Mw) every 4 years to avoid electric power rationing, said Mauricio Tolmasquim, coordinator of energy planning at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

Itaipu, the largest power dam in the world is located at the Brazilian-Bolivian border. The professor added that “This would be the volume needed to supply the 5% growth in power demand per year.”

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