The latest burst of hydropower projects in Latin America continues with diverse schemes underway across the continent, from large to small – gigawatts down to single-digit megawatts – and with storage and run-of-river new schemes, a wide range of dam types and sizes, and often significant tunnelling works. Refurbishment is also becoming more important for long established facilities built in earlier eras of buoyant investment in the sector.

Perhaps moreso than before, many of the projects are being undertaken as cross-border ventures of neighbouring nations, and not only on shared rivers, but also increasingly with the participation of international companies, both utilities and contractors, from farther afield.

Given the rich hydrology of Latin America and significant untapped hydropower resources, the projects being carried out and in study range from damming broad rivers in green lowlands to combinations of smaller reservoirs and much tunnelling in mountain valleys and snaking near-ravines. A number of the schemes are looking to exploit water power in single valleys with a strategic approach of cascade development, though not always with the same developer undertaking all plants.

Many of the projects are multi-year undertakings but while some can be realised more quickly together they add to the new capacity to come online in the short-term – from this year out to 2016. Many schemes are under examination to join the pipeline for commissioning later this decade, and beyond. Latin America is realising more of the great promise it holds in hydropower, and continues to hold out excellent prospects for many more projects in the coming years.


As ever, Brazil is perhaps the most prominent in hydropower development in Latin America both in terms of the size of projects underway – although there is growing strong competition from the plans of Andean nations, such as Ecuador especially in terms of numbers of schemes. Presently, in Brazil there are a swathe of large and small projects under development, ranging from Belo Monte, Jirau and Santo Antonio to Simplico, Colider, Maua, Batalha, Garabi-Panambi, Sao Luiz do Tapajos and Baixo Iguacu, and even down to Rodeio Bonito and Jacare.

Projects completed in the last couple of years include: the 241MW Sao Salvador scheme on the Tocantins River between the states of Tocantins and Goais in the north of the country, and developed by a subsidiary of GDF Suez; and, the 140MW Baguari plant, which was constructed in the mid-west state of Minas Gerais.

Small hydro is also a growing feature of the sector with projects that include: French group Velcan Energy’s 14.7MW Rodeio Bonito, in state of Santa Catarina, which commenced production in late 2009; and, the 9MW Jacare scheme in Minas Gerais, and developed by Guanhaes Energia which is majority-owned by the state utility Cemig.

Utilities also have refurbishment plans for some plants, such as the utility Furnas undertaking a US$532M programme of modernisation and refurbishment at the 1216MW Furnas – the station of the same name – and the 1.050MW Luiz Carlos Barreto facility. Completed in 1963 and 1969, respectively, the plants represent about a quarter of the utility’s hydro generation assets, which themselves dominate its portfolio. The programmes of works at the plants are to restore generation capacity, improve reliability and operational flexibility, extend useful life, modernise the technology employed and reduce required maintenance periods.

The country’s national development bank, BNDES, continues to play a significant role in supporting the financing of hydropower projects.

Belo Monte

Just over a year ago the contract to construct the 11,233MW Belo Monte scheme on the Xingu River, in Para state, in the northeast of Brazil was awarded to the Norte Energia consortium, led by the utility Companhia Hidro do Sao Francisco (Chesf).

Belo Monte will be Brazil’s largest hydropower scheme entirely within its borders, and is far larger than the two sister projects that also caught the imagination of the sector in recent years – Jirau and Santo Antonio, in the west of the country. In terms of Brazil’s involvement in hydropower, Belo Monte is only second to the 14,000MW Itaipu bi-national scheme on the border with Paraguay.

Studies on the exploitation of the hydropower potential of the Xingu basin got underway in earnest in the 1970s and gradually the scale the focus of potential projects was shaved down to Belo Monte. But, still, given the size of the project and the environmental impacts that will need to mitigated, development progress suffered setbacks and delays due to opposition that included pressure for legal blocks to the auction for the concession.

Finally, in early 2010, a conditional preliminary licence from the national environmental authority, Ibama, paved the way for the project to proceed, and the contract was signed in the third quarter. But Ibama’s approval for the construction phase to begin was only given at the outset of this year. However, legal pressures over environmental concerns have continued and a block led to a brief suspension of the works until it was overturned two months ago.

The project comprises two powerhouses – the 11,000MW main facility and a secondary station of 233MW that will be equipped with Francis and bulb turbines, respectively. The units are to be commissioned in a rolling programme from 2015 to 2019, starting with the smaller station. Prior to the delays to the auction process it had been anticipated that commissioning would have been able to start in 2014.

The total average assured power from Belo Monte is to be 4,517MW (4,419MW from the main plant) – less than half the installed capacity.

Jirau, Santo Antonio

The 3300MW Jirau and 3150MW Santo Antonio projects are under construction on the Madeira River in west Brazil near the border with Bolivia. Together the projects are known as the Madeira complex, or scheme, and rank as the next biggest hydropower undertaking in the country after Belo Monte.

Jirau is being constructed by a GDF Suez-led consortium under a 30-year concession and the project is more than half completed. The powerhouse will have 44 generating units and commissioning of the first turbines is scheduled to begin in about a year.

The consortium building Santo Antonio under a long-term concession is led by Furnas and contractor Odebrecht. Again, the design features 44 generating units and a schedule that anticipates the first commissioning in 2012.

Extensive HVDC transmission line works are also required to link the remote hydropower projects to the Brazilian grid.

Colider, Maua

Two key projects currently underway involving utility Companhia Paranaese de Energia (Copel) are at opposite ends of the construction phase – Colider and Maua. Approval was recently received to begin construction of the 300MW Colider project, on the Teles Pires River, in Mato Grosso state; construction of the 361MW Maua scheme, in Parana state, is in its final stages.

Copel is working with Eletrosul through their special purpose company Consorcio Energetico Cruzeiro do Sul to develop the Maua project, which includes a 85m high by 745m long RCC dam that is nearing completion. Construction work on the project was held up early in the programme due to heavy rains in 2009 that delayed the start of key activities on the riverbed and left bank. Work has since proceeded well and the project – comprising two powerhouses (350MW and 11MW) is expected to be completed this year.

The utility is interested in potential projects on the Tapajos River as well as further potential projects downstream of Colider on the Teles Pires, a tributary. A larger project – 1.829MW Teles Pires – is already under construction on the tributary by Neoenergia, Furnas, Electrosul and Odebrecht.

Separately, Copel has flagged its interest in small hydro development.


A number of hydropower development have been underway in Peru.

Brazilian group Odebrecht is gearing up for the 406MW Chaglla project and is also advancing plans for the 1,286MW Tam40 scheme. The US$1.2 billion Chaglla project on the Huallaga River features a 199m high CFRD dam, a 14.7km long intake tunnel and two powerhouses, the main plant having an installed capacity of 400MW. The main plant will house two Francis units operating under a head of 369m and load factor of approximately 72%.

The project is being developed by a special purpose company – Empresa de Generacion Huallaga S.A. Funding for the project is split approximately 67:33 on debt-to-equity basis. Due to come online in 2016, Chaglla is to generate 2,550GWh of electricity per year. In March this year the local utility ElectoPeru contracted at auction to buy 284MW of the plant’s power.

Separately, Odebrecht was given a temporary concession a half-year ago for to push ahead with studies for the Tam40 scheme. It is expected that the work will be completed during the second half of next year.

Another foreign-led venture underway in Peru is construction of the 168MW Cheves project which is being developed by Norwegian company SN Power, and constructed by Germany’s Hochtief, for completion in 2013. The Cheves project is located on the Huaura River and works include a range of surface and major underground structures, such as tunnels and a powerhouse cavern which will hold a pair of Pelton turbines operating under a gross head of 602m. The station is expected to generate around 830GWh of electricity per year.

The 112MW Quitaracsa I project is a high head scheme that was under development by Quitaracsa S.A. – Empresa de Generacion Electrica until acquired by GDF Suez last year and is now held by the group’s subsidiary EnerSur

Italian group Astaldi is involved with local contractor Grana y Montero in construction of the 90MW Huanza project, which involves building an RCC dam and extensive tunnelling works.

In the mining sector, which often holds prospects for hydropower to become an independent generation resource, early development work has been underway for a potential project at the Pasto Bueno tungsten mine which is owned by Malaga, Inc. In conjunction with Swiss company Emerging Power Developers, part of Stucky, the miner has investigated the Pelagatos and Plata rivers for the scheme. It is estimated that 28MW of hydropower resource could be developed for the best rate of return and generate up to approximately 140GWh of electricity annually.


Like other Andean nations, Chile offers many prospects for hydropower development.

Chilean utility Colbun is developing the 316MW Angostura project in the Bio-Bio region in the south of the country. A joint venture of Italian contractor Impregilo and local contractor Fe Grande has been working on the scheme since last year and the project is due to be online by early 2013. Significant underground works are required for the project.

Astaldi is also active in Chile, and even moreso that in Peru at this stage. It has an equity stake in development of the 111MW Chacayes project with Australian utility Pacific Hydro, and is also undertaking the turnkey construction contract. The run-of-river project is scheduled to be completed this year. Fe Grande is working on Chacayes with Astaldi, which was first involved in the Chilean hydro sector in the 1980s through the Alfalfal project.

Pacific Hydro is also a key player in two other hydropower schemes projects recently completed in the country – the sister projects of 158MW La Confluencia and 155MW La Higuera projects in the Tinguiririca catchment. The utility has developed those projects in collaboration with SN Power, and together they have operated as Tinguiririca Energia.

While working effectively as a cascade, the significant features of the projects are the extensive collector and transfer tunnels stretching across the upper catchment and connecting the schemes. The two projects are dominated by three tunnels that have a total length of almost 38km, the longest being the 17.5km transfer tunnel from La Confluencia downstream to La Higuera.

The condition and maintenance of existing assets is also of economic importance for utilities, and recently Endesa Chile hired Norconsult to check up to 43 turbines in the plants in its portfolio.


It is not only the main area of South America that hydropower projects are advancing. In Central America, a number of smaller projects are underway in Panama, each with their own challenges. There is a common challenge, however, for the Pando-Monte Lirio and El Alto projects which although being built by different developers are located in the same narrow valley where tunnelling is needed and an unusual geological challenge presents.

The projects are located in the Chiquiri Viejo valley in the west of the country and will form the upper section of what will become a cascade of small hydro plants. The topography calls for relatively long tunnelling works in relation to the installed capacities of the plants – some 16km of headrace bores, by TBM, for a total installed capacity of 144MW. The construction challenge is added to by the relatively unusual geology for TBM drives – lahar rock, which is solidified slurry related to the volcanic history of the region.

Pando and Mont Lirio are separate projects of 32MW and 52MW capacities, respectively, and are being developed with a US$292M budget by Electron Investment which has a 50-year concession. The 60MW El Alto project is immediately downstream and is being developed by a joint venture of local firms Hydro Caisan and Panama Power Holdings.

Other key projects

Among the other key new hydropower undertakings in the continent are the 2160MW Manuel Piar (previously called Tocoma) project in Venezuela, and the 900MW La Parota and 750MW La Yesca schemes in Mexico.

Developments in Colombia include the 844MW Porce III, 820MW Sogamoso and 400MW El Quimbo schemes. In Guyana, projects include the 154MW Amaila Falls scheme on the Kuribrong River approximately 250km southwest of Georgetown.

In Bolivia, with its tremendous hydropower potential as well as other energy resources, such as gas, development effort is focused mainly on the Misicuni hydropower project which has been sought for a long time. The project involves construction of a CFRD dam and extensive tunnelling works.

Ecuador sees a number of studies continue for major and smaller hydropower schemes, and foreign involvement has been a prominent feature, such as from Brazil and China, and may grow further with the likes of South Korean participation. A priority for the Government is development hydropower in the lower reaches of the Zamora catchment with projects like the 830MW Gualaquiza and 714MW San Antonio schemes.

The list for projects elsewhere in Ecuador is extensive, including Coca Coco Sinclair (1.5GW) – under constuction by China’s SinoHydro as well as Sopladora (400MW), Cardenillo (327MW), Toachi-Pilaton (228MW), Villadora (280MW) Chontal (100MW), Soldados-Yanuncay-Minas (28MW) and Ocana (26MW). The list for hydropower prospects goes on, including El Chaco (595MW in total), Balsas (407MW), Borja (350MW), Minas Jubones (335MW), Chespi (167MW), Baeza (60MW) and Quijos (50MW).

But while studies and construction of new schemes on the continent continues apace, there is also significant opportunity for rehabilitation of some major existing facilities, such as in the 10,085MW Simon Bolivar (also known as “Guri” dam) scheme in Venezuela, upstream of the Manuel Piar and also the Macagua I station, which is also being upgraded. The Simon Bolivar project is the second largest in Latin America after Itaipu and the ranks third in the world, and the new works will see the capacity of the scheme increase by 795MW – significant in itself though only less than 8%. The Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) is helping to finance the modernisation programme.

Latin America, as always, holds great potential for hydropower development and a great many schemes are being pushed forward.


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