Itaipú Blackout, Trouble for Paraguay’s International Agenda with Brazil.

Image of Itaipú with the spillway open

Last night, the hydroelectric dam Itaipú shut down completely, leaving millions without electricity in Brazil and Paraguay. Here in Asunción, we shrugged and continued drinking wine (this is par for the course in the country which produces the highest amount of electricity per capita) but in Brazil, it caused grave concern as Saõ Paulo and Rio de Janeiro came to a standstill.

Itaipú, famous as the world’s largest energy producing dam (and, slightly less well-known as the topic of my dissertation research here in Paraguay) is legally co-owned by Brazil and Paraguay and has been the issue of massive popular mobilization and international diplomacy in the past few years because of Paraguayan dissatisfaction with the uneven distribution of the dam’s energy and financial resources. The key issue is that Paraguay wants to have “full access” to its half of the energy of the dam and sell it for a “just price”—right now, all its unused energy from the dam is sold to Brazil. For this electricity, Paraguay received about $2.81 per megawatt hour, which Brazil then went and sold for anywhere between $20 and $80 per megawatt hour.

In July of this past year, there were serious advances made in the negotiations between Paraguay and Brazil as Presidents Fernando Lugo (P) and Lula da Silva (B) signed an agreement increasing the amount Paraguay will receive per megawatt hour and eventually be able to sell its energy to third parties, among other things.

But, in Brazil there was and has been resistance to this, with claims that Lula has prioritized other countries over Brazil and with claims that Paraguay is asking something for nothing (since only Brazil secured the capital necessary to build the binational dam). And with a tangible experience of what Brazil is like without Itaipú—blackouts in the major cities, subway trains stalled underneath the city—the issue of “energy security” may be all the more controversial and make it difficult for the Brazilian parliament to approve the signed agreement.

Whether this was caused by a short somewhere in the Brazilian system or from “atmospheric conditions,” the truth remains that, in violation of the 1973 Itaipú Treaty, only one substation to process the electricity was built—the one on the Brazilian side. A substation was supposed to have been built on the Paraguayan side, but never was.

Itaipú supplied about 19.3% of Brazil’s electricity and 87.3% of Paraguay’s electricity in 2008. It has an installed capacity of 14,000 megawatts (20 turbines at 700 megawatts each—10 belonging to each country). Paraguay uses about 10% of the electricity produced by Itaipú, Brazil 90%. At any given moment, two turbines (one for each country) are turned off for maintenance and upkeep, but, nevertheless, Paraguay uses the electricity from two of its turbines, the rest go to Brazil.

EDITED to add:
The infighting in Brazil begins today. Also, the word for "blackout" in Spanish is "apagón" and in Portuguese is "blecaute."

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One Response to Itaipú Blackout, Trouble for Paraguay’s International Agenda with Brazil.

Greg Delaney said...

it was good to find out that the blackout actually was caused by faulty equipment -- not hackers


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