S. America energy demand drives investment

Jan. 12, 2012 at 4:04 PM   |   0 comments

RIO DE JANEIRO, Jan. 12 (UPI) -- Regional growth in energy demand is driving investment, including inward cash inflows in Latin America, a trend that is likely to continue this year.

A key to the investment outlook is the creditworthiness of most of the Latin American countries that are drawing international investments, sometimes to the detriment of their currencies.

In Brazil, a flood of inward investment pushed up the value of the Brazilian currency real and added pressure on exporters to remain competitive in the international marketplace.

Fitch Ratings said credit trends for the Latin American power sector remain stable with medium-term electricity demand growth linked to regional economic growth.

However, it said, the growing electricity demand will require more capacity to be added to available power generation, transmission and distribution.

Further capacity expansions announced in Argentina, Venezuela and some Central American countries will most likely be insufficient to keep up with energy demand growth in those countries, as they already have low reserves of power generation, Fitch said.

Other countries in the region with adequate central planning for capacity expansion and proactive regulatory frameworks will likely be able to strengthen their infrastructure to cope with demand growth, Fitch said.

The cost and availability of credit is a main concern facing the sector, but regional liquidity remains strong except in Venezuela, which has a "negative outlook," Fitch said.

Brazil and Chile have announced ambitious and controversial plans for increased use of hydroelectric resources. In both countries plans for introducing new dams and transmission systems in pristine environments have led to protests from environmental groups and representatives of indigenous communities threatened with displacement.

Brazil already has the world's second-largest dam, after China's Three Gorges Dam, the 14,000-megawatt Itapu complex it shares with Paraguay. Brazil is building the 11,233-megawatt Belo Monte dam on the Xingu River in the northern state of Para. Chile plans to build a five-dam complex in its southern Patagonia region to meet an expected surge in energy demand.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff recently approved five new hydroelectric dams in the Amazon basin amid an outcry of opposition from the indigenous communities likely to be displaced by the projects.

The five new dams will be built along the Tapajos River in the state of Para. The government says access to the dams will only be by helicopter to preserve the Amazon rain forest, and further construction in the surrounding areas is not planned.

Brazil's plans call for an ingenious design using platforms similar to those used for offshore drilling.

"We're expecting a great noise against the new dams on the Tapajos River, but as we have done with Belo Monte we are undertaking all possible environmental considerations with the rigor of control entities," Mines and Energy Minister Edison Lobao said.

He said despite the anticipated rise in protests the government could not stop the projects as they were needed to fuel economic growth and the well-being of the Brazilian people.

The dams will contribute to the national grid close to the cities of Sao Luiz de Tapajos, Jatoba, Jamanxim, Cachoeira de Cai and Cachoeira dos Patos in the state of Para.

"Those who protest and complain should know that, but for these dams, we would end up having thermal units fueled with coal, diesel and even nuclear energy. But this energy from the dams I consider clean and efficient," Lobao said.

He said "the world will be surprised" by the new technology to be used for constructing the five new dams.

The government is also promising to replant the Amazonian forest to be cleared for the dam construction and keep the area out of bounds, except by air.

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