Gil Maranhão Neto is the director of business development at GDF Suez Energy Brasil. He spoke with us about the hydropower environment in the Amazon region, the role of the private sector and the impacts of IHA's work.
Can you tell us about GDF Suez’s activities in Latin America?
In Latin America, we are active in Brazil, Chile, Peru and Panama. Brazil, together with the US and Thailand, is one of our strongholds outside of France and Belgium, where the group has its origins. Our hydropower expertise as operators and investors is located in Brazil.
We have hydro assets in France, and a large pumped-storage plant in Belgium. In Latin America we own the Laja project in Chile, and Quitarasca is currently in construction in Peru. We have two small hydro plants in construction in Panama, and Brazil is where the bulk of the group’s hydro generation is located.
We have around 8,000 MW installed under our control in operation in Brazil, plus almost 4,000 MW under construction already starting operation through the Jirau hydropower plant on the Madeira river.
Can you tell us tell us a bit more about hydropower development in the Amazon region?
The Amazon is a very big place, composed of different territories with different levels of population and development. 30 million people are living in the legal Amazon region. What is important is that Brazil has a very dense and restrictive environmental legislation, to ensure that whatever is done in terms of new hydropower development will be done in a sustainable way.
Brazil knows that the world is paying attention to what happens in the region."
Brazil knows that the world is paying attention to what happens in the region. As an international corporation, GDF SUEZ has been very satisfied to see the results of the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol application at Jirau, and the registration of the project into the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).
Both achievements prove that it is possible to develop and implement sustainable hydropower in the heart of the Amazon.
So what impact do you think the protocol can have around the world?
It is being used, for instance, in the greenfield hydropower complex in the Tapajós river in Brazil, also located in the legal Amazon region We are using it unofficially to indicate better ways of implementing the project as if we were trying to achieve certain scores in many of the aspects measured by the protocol.
So it’s becoming a guide for project preparation, but not in isolation of course – we have to respect legislation and we have to take into account many other restrictions. The concession auctions for the projects in the Tapajós basin are expected to start at the end of 2014.
Tapajós is not a pristine area. In most places where Brazil is studying new projects, people live in poverty along the banks of the river. New projects help to address that, by relocating people, establishing programmes for environmental education, creating sewage systems, and reforesting damaged areas.
What are the benefits that management and staff have derived from being connected to IHA?
Our participation in IHA is considered very important. We have actively participated in the Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Freshwater Reservoirs Research Project, and also in the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol since its beginnings. These projects are considered key for our objectives in Brazil.
For instance, we are measuring the São Salvador hydropower plant, and we have recently published the official report of the application of the sustainability protocol in Jirau. For a country like Brazil, which is overseeing the construction of new hydro plants in the Amazon region – a sensitive area – our aim is to grow through hydropower, a clean and renewable source of power.
Being a member of IHA, and being able to benefit from the programmes it has developed, is a key element for our success.
As a private developer, what do you look at when you become involved in a project?
Private engagement in Brazil is a reality. Projects are being built through private companies or with the involvement of private companies. The state cannot invest alone in hydropower projects, so they have to involve private investors.
Hydroelectric projects require the same attention and dedication whatever their sizes. So when we choose a new project, we prefer to go for more significant projects. We have the size, and we are prepared to manage the big ones. This is what we have mainly been doing in Brazil for 20 years – developing, implementing and operating large hydropower plants.
The project also needs to be sustainable – economically, environmentally and socially sustainable – otherwise we don’t go for it.
It is key for us to have a good relationship with the local population, so that they see the project as a benefit, not a problem."
We carry out an assessment and if we realise that it is going to create problems, and if the local population is not satisfied with it, we avoid it. It is key for us to have a good relationship with the local population, so that they see the project as a benefit, not a problem.
The final point in choosing a project of course is financing. As a private company we need to create a project financing scheme to raise debt, and if we have too many social and environmental hurdles we will not get financing. So this is something we look at from the beginning. These are the main aspects analysed by GDF Suez in Brazil when seeking a new hydropower project.
For more information about the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol, visit: www.hydrosustainability.org.