Itaipú Hydroelectric Project

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Itaipú Hydroelectric Project

Itaipú Hydroelectric Project, power station and reservoir located on the Paraná River on the border between Brazil and Paraguay. Itaipú has an installed capacity of 12,600 megawatts and an annual output of 77,000 gigawatt-hours, making it the largest and one of the most productive hydroelectric projects in the world. The dam complex is 4.6 miles long, reaches a maximum height of 216 yards, and houses eighteen 715-megawatt Francis turbines. Technologically distinctive features of the Itaipú project include the most powerful hydrogenerators and turbines, the highest direct-current transmission voltages and power ever used (+600 kilovolts and 6,300 megawatts), and some of the longest transmission lines in the world (about 600 miles of 765-kilovolts alternating current transmission). Both 50-hertz and 60-hertz generators were required in order to meet each country's national frequency standard.

The energy potential of the Paraná River has been known since at least the mid-1950s and has been previously exploited in a series of smaller dams within Brazil. The Acta Final (Acta de Iguaçú), signed in June 1966, ended a border dispute between Brazil and Paraguay and provided that the energy potential of the river between the site of the border dispute and the mouth of the Iguaçú River would be shared in condominium. Feasibility studies were undertaken and in April 1973, the Itaipú Treaty was signed, establishing a binational entity owned by the two state-owned electric utilities, the Administración Nacional de Electricidad (ANDE) in Paraguay and the Centrais Elétricas Brasileiras S.A. (Eletrobras) in Brazil. With an initial capital of $100 million, the binational entity secured financing from Brazilian agencies and international commercial banks (with the guarantee of the government of Brazil) to finance construction of the project. The Itaipú Dam created a 540-square-mile reservoir, which flooded the disputed area in October 1982. The first generator began commercial operation in 1984 and the project was completed in 1991 at an estimated total cost of $18 billion. Itaipú Binacional operates the facility, selling electric power to the two owners.

See alsoBoundary Disputes: Brazil .


Gerd Kohlhepp, Itaipú: Socio-economic and Ecological Consequences of the Itaipú Dam (1987) provides a good overview of the Itaipú project, especially in the Brazilian context. The text of the Itaipú Treaty and definitive coverage of the debate surrounding it is found in E. E. Gamon, Itaipú: Aguas que valen oro (1975). Ricardo Canese, Itaipú y la cuestión energética en el Paraguay, Biblioteca de Estudios Paraguayos, vol. 7 (1983), provides an excellent discussion of the project, the pricing of its electric power, and the potential uses of its energy in Paraguay. The impact of the Itaipú project on the Paraguayan economy may be found in Werner Baer and Melissa H. Birch, "Expansion of the Economic Frontier: Paraguayan Growth in the 1970s," in World Development 12, no. 8 (1984): 783-798. For technical information, see Julival De Moraes and Victor F. Salatko, "Coming: 12,600 Megawatts at Itaipú Island," in IEEE Spectrum (August 1983): 46-52.

Additional Bibliography

Davidson, Frank Paul, and Kathleen Lusk-Brooke. Building the World: An Encyclopedia of the Great Engineering Projects in History. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2006.

Debernardi, Enzo. Apuntes para la historia política de Itaipú. Paraguay: s.n., 1996.

Mazzarollo, Juvencio. A taipa da injustiçia: Esbanjamento economico, drama social e holocausto ecológico em Itaipú. Curitiba, PR: CPT-PR, Comissão Pastoral da Terra do Parana; São Paulo: Edições Loyola, 2003.

                                        Melissa H. Birch