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Routes of Electricity

First Brazilian hydroelectric power plant to generate power for the population was inaugurated 116 years ago

Electricity became available in Brazil for public use almost at the same time as abroad. A set of factors contributed towards this. German engineer Werner Siemens invented the dynamo in 1867, which made the industrial use of electricity possible. The means of transmission of high-voltage electricity over long distances and transformers and alternators had an equally rapid development. These conquests made it possible to create networks to supply public thoroughfares, factories, commerce and residences. Furthermore, the collective acceptance of electricity in the 19th century was swift. Brazil followed this process closely, in good measure thanks to the interest of the Emperor Pedro II, a recognized enthusiast of technological novelties.

The chronology of a few facts shows well this simultaneousness in the use of electricity. In the same year in which the American Thomas Edison invented the electric light bulb, in 1879, the lighting at the Central Station of the Dom Pedro II Railroad (afterwards called Central Railroad of Brazil), in Rio de Janeiro, was inaugurated. If New York was the first city in the world to have public lighting, in 1882, fed by a thermal power plant, right in the following year, the then district of Campos, in Rio de Janeiro, was the first in the country to enjoy the same service, with a steam engine. Also in 1883, a small power plant on the Inferno stream, a tributary of the River Jequitinhonha, in Diamantina, in the state of Minas Gerais , went into operation. The first hydroelectric power plant installed in Brazil, served for some time a mining company.

But what is in fact regarded as the first hydroelectric power plant in the country and in Latin America to supply electricity for public lighting, Marmelos-Zero, was installed on the River Paraibuna, at the Marmelos waterfall, in Juiz de For a, also in Minas Gerais. To start with, in 1886, the idea was to have gas lighting. However, industrialist Bernardo Mascarenhas and banker Francisco Batista de Oliveira managed to change the original concession to electrical lighting. For this reason, the Minas Electricity Company was incorporated, run by Mascarenhas, which began to build the power plant in February 1889 and inaugurated it on September 5 of the same year. In the beginning, the operation was carried out with two groups of generators of 125 kilowatts each, comprising two hydraulic turbines, each of which drove two single-phase alternators, at a pressure of 1,000 volts and a frequency of  60 hertz. A hundred and eighty incandescent light bulbs, of 32 filaments, at 50 volts, made up the public lighting system of Juiz de Fora in that year. Two years later, besides the public use, 700 light bulbs were installed for domestic use.

In the following years, a third generator group joined those already at work and made it possible to modernize industry in the whole region, especially the textile industry. In 1896, the Marmelos-Zero power plant was deactivated and other hydroelectric power plants took its place to make better use of the waterfall?s potential. Over a hundred years afterwards, now listed by the Historical Heritage, the power plant’s engine room was restored by the Minas Gerais Energy Company and today houses the Marmelos-Zero Museum, with the Federal University of Juiz de Fora in charge.