In hydro development in Brazil the country has seen such high levels of precipitation recently that it is looking at a strategic cutback in imported natural gas, and project development has also seen major funds provided for one of the largest schemes of recent years - Santo Antonio.

The Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME) said that the current high storage levels in reservoirs had given security of energy supply in the current season, and so presented an opportunity for a reduction of gas imports.

Rainfall in December was much higher than average, and the trend is expected to continue this month and in February. Based on the good hydrological conditions, the Electricity Sector Monitoring Committee (CMSE) had decided to review the imports of gas, said MME.

In a further major step forward for hydro power in the country, Brazil’s national development bank, BNDES, has approved R$6,100M (US$2,575M) of funds to help the concessionaire build the 3150MW Santo Antonio project. The financing equates to 46.6% of the project budget, and when combined with funds from other financial organisations brings the total debt to almost two-thirds of the budget.

The concession was won by Madeira Energia SA (Mesa), a consortium led by Furnas and Odebrecht and including Andrade Gutierrez, Cemig and a private equity fund held by Santander and Banif.

BNDES is providing the funds to Santo Antonio Energia (SAESA), which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Mesa which is to have the first of 44 generation units commissioned by May 2012.

Mesa has contracted Consorcio Construtor Santo Antonio (CCSA) to build the project. The JV includes Odebrecht, Andrade Gutierrez, alstom Hydro Energia Brasil, Areva Transmissao and Distribuicao de Energia, Siemens, andritz Hydro, voith-siemens and Bardella.

Santo Antonio is one of two projects in the 6450MW Madeira scheme. Its sister project is the 3300MW Jirau scheme.