Help from the past

Four small hydroelectric power plants that had been turned into museums are generating electricity again

Fundação Energia e Saneamento collectionLand filling at the Salesópolis power plant in 1939Fundação Energia e Saneamento collection

Since 1999, Aneel, Brazil’s electric power sector regulating agency, has received four requests for the concession of electric power generation. Unlike other routine requests with the same purpose, the regulating authorities did not know what to do at first. For the first time ever, such a request had come from a non-profit organization. The idea was to re-activate four historical, small hydroelectric power plants that had been considered obsolete and had been shut down many years ago.

The small power plants for which the request for concession was submitted as of 1999 were: Corumbataí, in the town of Rio Claro; São Valentim, in the town of Santa Rita do Passa Quatro; Jacaré, in the town of Brotas; and Salesópolis, in the town of the same name – all of them in the State of São Paulo. Since 1998, these power plants had belonged to Fundação Energia e Saneamento, a São Paulo State power and sanitation foundation created at that time in connection with the privatization of the electric power companies. “The government’s concern was to avoid losing the vast collection accumulated since the nineteenth century by the power companies when ownership changed hands,” says Márcia Pazin, Special Services and Projects supervisor at the foundation to which the small power plants had been donated. These power plants were turned into parks, where visitors could learn about the history of electric power and take part in environmental education activities.

Fundação Energia e Saneamento collection Construction of the dam at the Jacaré power plant, in the 1940sFundação Energia e Saneamento collection

Two factors led to reactivating of the power plants, as approved by Aneel. As a private, non-profit institution without fixed supporters, the proceeds from the sale of electric power could help maintain the foundation’s cultural and educational projects. The growing demand for energy in São Paulo also encouraged the request. A public bid was organized. Twenty five bidders participated in the tender. Herber Participações, which belongs to the Bertin group, met all the requirements and was thus the winning bidder. Investments in the four small power plants total R$ 14 million.

In March of this year, the hydroelectric power plant at the Salesópolis Park and Power Plant Museum was resurrected. The other three plants will go on-stream again in upcoming months. Corumbataí, the oldest of the four, was inaugurated in 1895, then remodeled and re-inaugurated in 1900. São Valentim was opened in 1910, Salesópolis, in 1913, and Jacaré, the newest, in 1944. All four were shut down between the seventies and the eighties. When they go on-stream again, the power plants are expected to generate 36 thousand megawatts/hour per year (MWh/year), enough to power 15 thousand households with a monthly consumption of 200 kWh/month. The electric power provided by the small power plants will complement what is supplied by other concessionaires.

Fundação Energia e Saneamento collection Corumbataí power plant in the 1890’s, surrounded by the population of the town of Rio ClaroFundação Energia e Saneamento collection

Concurrently with the reactivation, specialists from the foundation along with historians from the University of São Paulo and from Paulista State University are working on a project, which receives aid from FAPESP, which will list and publicize the history of electric power in São Paulo. Several series of photos are available at Floor plans, maps, technical designs, documents on the relationship with government authorities, and the sector’s architectural and industrial heritage will also become available on-line. “Everything will be available for researchers and people interested in the history of electric power in the State of São Paulo,” says Isabel Felix, a historian from the foundation.