By ROBERT P. WALZER from The New York Times

PhotoEPA Brazil will hold its first wind-only energy auction next month in a move to diversify its energy portfolio. Foreign companies are scrambling to take part.

 

Early this decade, a drought in Brazil that cut water to the country’s hydroelectric dams prompted severe energy shortages. The crisis, which ravaged the country’s economy and led to electricity rationing, underscored Brazil’s pressing need to diversify away from water power.

One result of that introspection will climax on Dec. 14, when the Brazilian government conducts its first wind-only energy auction. The bidding is expected to lead to the construction of two gigawatts of wind production with an investment of about $6 billion over the next two years.

The auction has attracted a number of international players, including the local units of Energias de Portugal, Electricité de France, Spain’s Iberdrola, EnerFin of the United States and several Brazilian companies, among others.

Interest has been so great, in fact, that the Ministry of Mines and Energy, which is conducting the auction, postponed it by three weeks to allow extra time to evaluate the preliminary bids.

“The number of projects proposed were much greater than expected by everyone,’’ said Pedro Perrelli, the executive director of ABEEólica, the Brazilian Wind Energy Association.

Industry and the government had anticipated proposals for 4.5 gigawatts to 6 gigawatts of projects, but “we came to the astonishing number of 13.3 gigawatts’’ from 441 proposals, Mr. Perrelli said. 

Within days, the government plans to release the auction’s technical manual, allowing participants to refine their bids. The winners will get a 20-year power-purchase agreement from the state.

Brazil counts on hydroelectricity for more than three-quarters of its electricity, but authorities are pushing biomass and wind as primary alternatives. Wind energy’s greatest potential in Brazil is during the dry season, so it is considered a hedge against low rainfall and the geographical spread of existing hydro resources.

“In Brazil, wind is very complimentary to hydro,” said João Carlos Mello, the chief executive of Andrade & Canellas, an energy consulting firm advising some bidders in the wind-power auction. “It’s clear that we need to open up our minds beyond hydro.”

Mr. Mello said Brazil’s technical potential for wind energy is 143 gigawatts due to the country’s blustery 4,600-mile coastline, where most projects are based. The Brazilian Wind Energy Association and the government have set a goal of achieving 10 gigawatts of wind energy capacity by 2020 from the current 605 megawatts, with another 450 megawatts under construction, said Mr. Perrelli.

The industry hopes the auction will help kick-start the wind-energy sector, which already accounts for 70 percent of the total in all of Latin America.

Brazil is already a renewable energy leader in the field of ethanol. Hydropower’s growth is increasingly held up over environmental concerns. And growing concerns about Brazil’s deforestation, the effects of climate change and pressure to reduce the country’s carbon emissions also work in wind’s favor.

But Keith Hays, the research director for wind energy at the Cambridge, Mass.-based Emerging Energy Research, a consultant firm to companies on renewable energy, said that uncertainty surrounding the financing and profitability of wind projects in Brazil raises doubts over whether the country can reach its goals.

He attributed the widespread interest in the wind auction to a desire among foreign companies to gain a foothold in Brazil, which is Latin America’s biggest market.

But Mr. Hays said that the lack of a floor on the price the government will pay for energy — as is customary in European countries that are leaders in wind energy, like Germany and Spain — could limit the industry’s growth because the winning projects may prove to be unprofitable.

“Their track record doesn’t speak to a huge success,’’ Mr. Hays said.

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