Leading Edge talks to Dr James Spalding, Managing Director of Itaipú Binacional, one of the largest hydroelectric plants in the world, about clean energy, social responsibility and the new Paraguay
Leading Edge (LE): What are your thoughts on the position that Paraguay is enjoying today, internationally and in the region?
Dr James Spalding (JS): I think, as President Cartes has been claiming since his electoral campaign, that Paraguay is the best kept secret of South America, and data received by the Ministry of Industry and Commerce have confirmed the interest that exists in it today, being the maquila programme a good example. Agricultural exports can now be added to the exports with added value — and not just soya beans — which not only adds to the value of the industry but gives it new directions. And we can see that one of the central reasons for this growth is Paraguay’s energy sources and the three hydroelectric power plants (Itaipú, with Brazil, Yacyretá, with Argentina, and Acaray) that mean that 99.99% of the energy consumed in the country and in the Andes is from clean and renewable sources. For us, this is an outstanding figure in a world which, as we can see in COP 21, is already looking for further development of fossil fuels.
LE: Sometimes gaps in infrastructure are a major factor. In the area within its jurisdiction, where are the bottlenecks of the country’s infrastructure?
JS: There is a gap between the need and the actual development of roads and access to ports, which have however been improved significantly in recent years. If you look at statistics from the MOPC (Ministry of Public Works and Communications), investment in public work and infrastructure is well above the previous average. There is a strong tendency to make these investments not only with public funds, but also through the public-private partnership law that came into force a little over a year ago. International partners are also being sought to make major investments.
If you look at statistics from the Ministry of Public Works and Communications, investment in public work and infrastructure is well above the previous average
LE: What else can be done with Paraguay’s availability of energy?
JS: Paraguay is currently using about 23% of the total energy produced by Itaipú for Paraguay. We are in an enviable situation both on a regional and global level. 75% of the energy consumed in this country is now being produced by Itaipú, with 22% in Yacyretá, and 2% or 3% in Acaray. And the great advantage is that by relying exclusively on water and not depending on the prices of oil and other commodities, we can maintain a stable price. A further advantage enjoyed by Paraguay today is significant macroeconomic stability, a dependably consistent exchange rate, and an economy that can be reliably predicted.
The region also has two technology parks: one in Brazil and one in Paraguay, which aim to push beyond traditional energy sources. We are working with the technology park in Paraguay in the production of solar and wind energy, and with funding from Itaipú, the first solar plant in the country was opened at the end of 2014, further expanding the country’s investment in clean and renewable energy sources. Work is being done in other research sectors and we are also, with the Brazilian PTI, looking at other investments that may be very interesting for Paraguay, such as the development of high-speed internet.
LE: What about Itaipú’s social responsibility projects? What are they focusing on now?
JS: One interesting feature of Itaipú, which separates it
from other hydroelectric plants, is its solid commitment to preserving the environment. We have more than 100,000 hectares of protected land, including over 74,000 hectares in Paraguay, and that means that the Itaipú dam has the most protected hectares by megawatt production. Last year the World Wildlife Fund carried out a study on Itaipú’s forests, and results showed that the forests in Paraguay produce oxygen for 22 million people, three times the population of Paraguay. Many people can breathe thanks to the protection of these forests that are maintained under Itaipú.