Plans to build six hydroelectric power plants by three of Brazil’s large industrial companies have been brought forward as a response to the country’s worsening energy shortage, according to a report in the business daily Valor last Friday.

Alcoa Inc., Billiton PLC and Brazil’s Companhia Vale do Rio Doce SA are to build six hydroelectric power plants worth over $3.6 billion by 2008. The projects have been planned for some time but have gained a sense of urgency with the recent onset of Brazil’s worst energy crisis for decades.

Pittsburgh-based Alcoa would invest nearly $1 billion of the $ 3.6 billion total, Azevedo told the paper. The plants would have a capacity of 5650 MW.

Brazil is highly dependant on Hydroelectric power and recent severe drought conditions have prompted the government this week to introduce widespread rationing with the likelihood of rolling blackouts that would specially hit energy-intensive industries such as metals.

“What we’re worried about now is generating our own energy to avoid blackouts at our factories,” Azevedo said.

Aluminium manufacturers consume about 6 percent of all Brazil’s energy and only generate 13 percent of the power they use.

Faced with power rationing, Alcoa, Billiton and Canada’s Alcan have all announced 25 per cent cuts in aluminium production at their Brazilian smelters.

Brazil is the world’s sixth-largest producer of primary aluminium.