Construction of a small hydroelectric plant bolsters the city’s standing as a role model for overcoming the challenges of supplying water and sewer services
From the windows of his office, Pablo Andreão, Director of Foz’s Cachoeiro de Itapemirim Unit in the eastern Brazilian state of Espírito Santo, has a magnificent view of the Itapemirim River and a good part of a pioneering project. The Small Hydropower Plant (SHP) built on Ilha da Luz (Island of Light) began operations in early November, making the city’s water and sewer utility energy self-sufficient.
The SHP is a milestone for Foz and Cachoeiro de Itapemirim, Espírito Santo’s “Princess of the South.” For the company, this is because it reinforces its role as a hub of excellence in providing an essential service while using energy more efficiently. For the city, it is because it has retrieved the history of Ilha da Luz, which got its name in 1903, the year when the original power plant began operations there and became the driving force that made Itapemirim the first city in Espírito Santo and the third in Brazil to have electric street lights.
Precisely 108 years later, Foz has invested BRL 30 million in the construction of an SHP that includes the restoration of part of the structure built at the time of the old power plant, which also spotlights a history that is a source of pride for the entire community. Ilha da Luz is once again living up to its name through a venture that generates 500 times more energy than the old plant did in the early 20th century. The SHP is designed to generate 3.8 MW of power, 36% more than the 2.8 MW planned in the initial design, and enough energy to power a city of 40,000 inhabitants.
“Electricity is the biggest part of a water and sewer utility’s budget,” says Pablo Andreão. “The commercial operation of the SHP makes Odebrecht’s environmental solutions company a role model for energy efficiency and sustainability. This will be highly positive for the local community and partnerships with suppliers by creating value for shareholders and the entire water and sewer business in Brazil.”
Andreão took the helm at Foz in Cachoeiro de Itapemirim in June. A 10-year member of the Odebrecht Organization, he has actively participated in the entire process of implementing the SHP, which began in 2003 with the initial feasibility studies. Later, in 2005, he oversaw the licensing process and, as of June 2010, he has supervised construction of the plant. Because it is being built in an urban area, it required extensive dialogue with the community and an intense social and environmental education program.
The biggest beneficiaries of the plant’s commercial operations will be residents of the urban area, which is home to more than 90% of Cachoeiro de Itapemirim’s 190,000 inhabitants. Foz supplies drinking water to 99.5% of the properties in that region, and 92.5% are also serviced by sewer systems. Andreão observes: “The SHP will ensure the steady operations of the utility, whose services require continuous operation of facilities and equipment located throughout the urban area that is the municipal seat of Cachoeiro, as well as in the other nine districts that make up the city.”
Cachoeiro’s economy will also get a tremendous boost from the SHP’s operations because it will allow Foz to stop sourcing all the energy it uses from the local public system, as the utility is one of the 10 largest electricity purchasers in the city. Because this input is critical for industry, the local infrastructure will become even more attractive for new and significant developments that will create more jobs and sources of income.
“The SHP will strengthen the status Cachoeiro de Itapemirim already enjoys as a benchmark for its water and sewer system, which has made our city one of the first in Brazil to address the issues of water supply and sewer services through a public-private partnership,” says Pablo Andreão.
“Foz has the water and sewer service concession until 2035 and is responsible for operating, maintaining, modernizing and expanding Cachoeiro de Itapemirim’s water and sewer system. The goal is to steadily develop a system that was already good, thereby enhancing Odebrecht’s values and philosophy,” says Mário Amaro da Silveira, former COO of Foz in Cachoeiro and now Director of Saneatins, the Tocantins state sanitation company, Foz’s latest achievement, which in October obtained a stake in the company’s private-sector shareholdings (76.52%).
Foz took over the operation of the city’s water and sewer services in 2008. Between 2009 and 2012, the company’s investments will total BRL 75 million, compared with BRL 50 million spent over the previous 10 years. The BRL 75 million have been distributed on three fronts: water loss reduction and automation; expanding the coverage of the sewer system; and construction of the Ilha da Luz SHP.
“Foz has an institutional client, the city government, which is the grantor, but the client is actually the end consumer, who receives drinking water with world-class treatment standards from a utility ranked among the top seven providers of water and sewer services in Brazil,” adds Mário Amaro da Silveira, referring to the ranking the company obtained through the National Quality in Sanitation Award in 2010.
Luiz Carlos de Oliveira, CEO of the City Regulation Agency for Public Utilities in Cachoeiro (Agersa), says he is satisfied: sanitation in the city is “well-rounded.” “This makes it possible to focus our efforts on overcoming challenges related to other municipal services, and the city can invest in areas like health and education.” He also points out that the Ilha da Luz SHP allows the utility to provide services more efficiently, which directly benefits the public by reducing the cost of water and sewer rates.
Oliveira observes that the plant’s construction and the visual impact of the works have stirred public interest and sparked the popular imagination. “Some people even thought the Itapemirim River would be filled in,” he jokes. All the rumors were cleared up, and the inhabitants were reassured. The Itapemirim, a source of pride for Cachoeiro’s residents, is just as it always was, but much cleaner since Foz installed the sewer system.
Barber Joseph Dalvi, 71, six-time president of the Teixeira Leite District Residents Association and willing to serve many more terms in office, can attest to that. He has lived in the same house overlooking the Itapemirim for over 40 years, and has spent many weekends collecting debris floating in the polluted waters of the river. Over time, his daughters grew up, his grandson was born, his hair turned white and he has learned to understand the soul of Itapemirim even better. “Before, the stench was unbearable, the fish disappeared, and you could hear the river groaning for her life. Now, thanks to the sewer system, the stench is gone, the fish came back and it’s full of fingerlings jumping in the water. The river is alive again.”