Itaipu the powerful

(continuer en français) – Published: February 13, 2021

Near Ciudad del Este in eastern Paraguay is Itaipu, the second largest hydroelectric dam in the world, the one that produced the most energy before being overtaken by the Chinese Three Gorges Dam. Located on the Paraná River, which forms the border with Brazil, the dam belongs to a bi-national entity with equal shares.

Construction began in 1975, electricity generation in 1984. Today there are 20 turbines, 2 of which are stopped by rotation for maintenance.

The artificial lake covers 932 square miles, 1,500 square kilometres and is 93 miles, 150 kilometres, long. It has covered a large amount of agricultural land and has caused the relocation of about 40,000 people, especially to the Brazilian cities of Medianeira and Foz do Iguaçu, which can be seen from the dam. Thousands of animals have also been resettled in other regions.

The management and revenue-sharing agreement remains a matter of dispute between the two countries. There was also an agreement signed with Argentina for strategic reasons. Indeed, the sudden opening of the floodgates could flood a part of this country which is located downstream and in particular Buenos Aires, the capital.

Paraguay and Brazil share equally the electricity production from the Itaipu dam. This represents 90% of the electricity consumed in Paraguay and 20% of that consumed in Brazil. But given the size of the respective economies, 90% of the electricity produced at Itaipu is used in Brazil. In exchange, Paraguay receives large sums of money that generously irrigate the paragovernmental sector.

The visit of the dam is organised free of charge. On the Paraguayan side, a well-equipped reception centre welcomes visitors. After watching a video praising the performance of the dam, a bus tour is given under good supervision. I felt like a VIP, the only visitor I had a guide to myself, relieved to be able to speak Spanish and not English, a driver, a bus and an escort car with two security guards. The horn of plenty from the dam will make a lot of things possible.

In the car park of the visitors’ centre, a Renault Twizy is promoting electric transport.

Tierra Guarani

Close to the reception centre, another important compound attracts attention. This is Tierra Guarani, an ethnographic and ecological museum, also free of charge and financed by the dam. Curiously, it is necessary to park outside the enclosure and show identity papers in order to enter.

In order to calm the polemics arising from the damage caused to the environment, several initiatives were put in place. Tierra Guarani provides reassuring explanations on the subject and presents the ways of life on the banks of the river, before the dam.

Several thousand animals were captured and relocated to other natural areas.

The contribution of Westerners is also highlighted, from Jesuit missionaries to the engineers of the Itaipu dam, as well as all the farmers who came to settle in search of farmland.

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