Brazil’s Balbina hydroelectric plant has destroyed swaths of rainforest and people’s homes–and isn’t even producing much clean energy. Can a new solar installation on its like be a model for improving dam projects around the world?
The Balbina hydroelectric dam in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest is, according to more than one expert, the worst hydro plant in the world. With too little water to run its five giant turbines, it operates at a fifth of its 250-megawatt (MW) capacity. The environmental and human costs required to build it were enormous and horrendous: In the 1980s, engineers flooded 900 square miles of rainforest, obliterating land occupied by indigenous tribes. And because of decomposing plant matter in the lake, Balbina may emit enough methane–an especially dangerous greenhouse gas–that its climate profile is no better than a coal plant, some scientists say.