Green role model
The Environmental Impact Study (EIS) developed for the construction of the Santo Antônio power plant
on the Madeira River in the Brazilian state of Rondônia is one of the most complete and advanced studies
of its kind ever carried out for a hydroelectric project
Written by: Cláudio Lovato Filho
Photos by: Edu SimõesFotos
The Madeira River: harnessing the waterway to generate energy and new development prospects for Porto Velho and Rondônia
It resulted from an effort that mobilized teams from all Construtora Norberto Odebrecht (CNO) action programs, and involved Furnas Centrais Elétricas, the company with which CNO has teamed up to lead Madeira Energia S.A. (MESA), the Specific Purpose Corporation (SPC) responsible for the hydroelectric plant concession, as well as researchers and experts invited to take part in the project. CNO and joint-venture partner Andrade Gutierrez are also in charge of building the plant. The study was one of the main tools for enabling the Brazilian public in general and the communities of Porto Velho and Rondônia in particular to understand and get behind the hydroelectric project. In this interview, Sergio Leão, the Construtora Norberto Odebrecht officer Responsible for Health, Workplace Safety and Environment, and the leader of the EIR team for the Santo Antônio Plant, explains why their work has helped convince Brazil that this project has met and will continue to meet the highest expectations for social and environmental quality.
“Studies indicated the need to bolster
Porto Velho’s public service infrastructure”
Odebrecht Informa – It has been repeatedly stated that the Environmental Impact Study for the Santo Antônio Hydroelectric Plant was the most thorough report of its kind ever produced for this kind of project. Why is that, exactly? What are the factors that set it apart?
Sergio Leão – This Environmental Impact Study was developed with the close involvement of a team of experts and researchers specialized in the Amazon region who worked exclusively on this project. It produced data and detailed studies of the Madeira River area, as well as studies of the ichthyofauna (all types of fish living in the river). This in-depth approach to EIS topics was innovative and gave the project a solidity and quality that have distinguished it as being one of the most thorough studies ever carried out for a hydroelectric project in Brazil or anywhere else in the world. The results achieved have made it possible to advance our knowledge of the environment in the Madeira River basin on a number of subjects, as well as recommending adequate environmental control and monitoring measures.
OI – How have the environmental studies for the Santo Antônio plant helped develop social support programs for the communities within the project’s sphere of influence and bolster the public service infrastructure?
Sergio Leão – These studies included an extensive socioeconomic diagnosis of all the communities in the city of Porto Velho. It is important to stress that the city covers a large area, including a 300-km stretch alongside the Madeira River. Together with the results of numerous public meetings, that diagnosis has made it possible to develop specific social and economic programs for each individual community. Furthermore, the studies indicated the need to strengthen the public service infrastructure in order to meet the expected demand caused by the arrival of the workforce that will build the plant. Although most of the workers will be local hires, some of them will come in from other parts of Rondônia and other Brazilian states (the aim is to keep them to a maximum of 30%). So the project includes reinforcing the public health, education, safety and sanitation sectors.
OI – What led to the decision to use bulb turbines?
Sergio Leão – The choice of bulb turbines arose from the initial decision to ensure that this project has a minimal environmental impact, compared to other hydroelectric projects in Brazil. In this case, finding a solution that would require the smallest possible reservoir and include low dams was an important factor. One natural characteristic of the Madeira River – the water is high throughout most of the year – made it possible to use the bulb turbine solution, which is now recognized as being the best choice.
OI – Did that decision result from interaction between the team for which you are responsible and other Odebrecht teams? How did that process come about?
Sergio Leão – By working through Odebrecht’s Health, Workplace Safety and Environment program, we were able to plan the construction works to minimize their impact. We reduced the size of the jobsites, limited the impact on the local communities in the vicinity of the Santo Antônio project, and proposed an environmental control program at the jobsite that will be in line with environmental management standard ISO 14001. The line of communication established between our program and the project’s management team was one of the strong points of this entire process. By ensuring that we were on the same page conceptually and constantly focused on optimizing environmental solutions, we arrived at a project that is now considered a benchmark for our company and all of Brazil.
OI – What has the Santo Antônio experience taught you personally? And how about Odebrecht? What has the Group learned?
Sergio Leão – The Santo Antônio experience has shown us that advance planning and the decision to carry out all the necessary studies will lead to innovative solutions in a win-win situation for the environment, the local communities and our team, which has also learned a great deal from this project. We have always been a unified team that wants to find alternative ways to improve the project and takes a firm stand regarding challenges. They also have the humility to view each community and riverside resident as an individual case. We can say we’ve done our best to make this project feasible, consistent and adaptable to different situations. We have had the support of a large number of individuals, ranging from world-renowned experts to people who joined in the unceasing effort to study and understand each and every locality – each individual community and its inhabitants. In partnership with Furnas, Odebrecht has forged alliances, shared our entrepreneurial philosophy with new partners and shown a new way forward for future Brazilian hydroelectric projects. It is an experience that we can definitely share with other countries as well.
OI – Is it hard for an Engineering & Construction company to prove to communities, opinion shapers and government officials that it wants to protect the environment while building a massive, valuable project like Santo Antônio? How did you sensitize the public in Porto Velho and Rondônia? What sort of message did you send out? Did you encounter any resistance at first? If so, how was it overcome?
Sergio Leão – From the very start, when working on the Santo Antônio project we have concentrated on maintaining an extensive communication program to discuss the project. That is why we have gotten people from all walks of life in the state of Rondônia involved in this program. For example, we have organized a series of debates with the college community, with young people from social inclusion movements, as well as business leaders and community associations. One example was the program of public meetings we held with all the riverside communities over the course of nearly two years, with the support of an NGO called CPPTCuniã, which is active among traditional communities in the Madeira area. Those efforts enabled us to understand where everyone was coming from, and to devise a project that would take their differences and dreams into account. At the same time, it also enabled us to shed light on and transparently demonstrate all the details and features of this project. You could say that the practice of truth-telling led to the knowledge and results we have achieved today. The application of the Odebrecht Entrepreneurial Technology (TEO), whose basic tenets include establishing trust and showing by example, was the basis for building alliances and overcoming any resistance we encountered, which was nearly always due to lack of information about the project’s aims.
OI – Harnessing the potential of waterways in the Amazon is a sensitive subject. In that regard, how can the environmental studies for the Santo Antônio project become a model for future projects? Have they created a new paradigm?
Sergio Leão – Without a doubt, the studies for the Santo Antônio hydroelectric plant have raised the bar and set a new benchmark for future projects. We know that most of them will be built in the Amazon, which is an environmentally sensitive region that is the focus of global attention. The success of these projects will depend on our ability to learn step by step and demonstrate that the next generation of hydroelectric projects will incorporate the strictest environmental and social standards, paying close attention to local communities, their traditions and cultures, as well as ensuring a broad understanding of the social issues affecting each region.