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Utility Eletrosul plans 3GW in southern state

One of the unexpected benefits of southern Brazil is that its winds are more reliable than those in the gustier Northeast.

Government-controlled utility Eletrosul, whose 90MW Cerro Chato complex was inaugurated in June, says its projects have been operating at capacity factors of 26.5-37% — slightly more than ­expected.

Eletrosul has big plans for wind power in Rio Grande do Sul. It has contracted more than 550MW that is ready for construction and has a pipeline of 3GW, of which 200MW is registered to participate in this ­October’s tenders.

It is no surprise that the utility, which traditionally operates in the southern states of Santa Catarina, Parana, Mato Grosso do Sul and Rio Grande do Sul, has been one of the pioneers in the latter.

Years ago, Eletrosul installed meteorological towers in its four key states, creating wind maps for each. It found that Rio Grande do Sul had the most potential and could compete with the winds of the Northeast, considered the best in Brazil, says engineering director Ronaldo dos Santos Custódio.

In the first federal wind tender in 2009, Eletrosul sold output from Cerro Chato at R$131 ($65) per MWh, at the time a shockingly low rate that industry whisperers derided, saying it was not feasible. But the plant is ­operational, and wind-energy rates have since dropped to about R$100/MWh.

The R$440m complex is part-owned by Wobben Windpower, which supplied the turbines. Eletrosul’s 482MW worth of contracts won at the A-3 tender in 2011 are being contracted to Gamesa and Impsa.

About 80MW of the new projects will be built in ­Santana do Livramento, near Cerro Chato. The remainder will be built in Chuí, which is also near the border with Uruguay.

Eletrosul’s deal with Impsa was an important factor in the Argentine company’s decision to open a wind factory in Rio Grande do Sul, Custódio tells ­ Recharge.

That does not guarantee that Eletrosul will use Impsa turbines in future projects, but Custódio expects the company to be able to “make good offers thanks to lower transportation costs”.

In fact, good logistics and infrastructure have generally given the South a boost over the Northeast. Access to substations and transmission lines has been much easier in Rio Grande do Sul, but that is beginning to change as line capacity is becoming saturated and new links will have to be built.

In Santana do Livramento, for example, Custódio expects the ability of the existing infrastructure to top out at absorbing 200MW. By the time the most recent wind project is completed, it will be absorbing 170MW, and new investments will be needed.

“It’s a major problem in the wind industry,” says Custódio. “We’re starting to live with this problem in Rio Grande do Sul as well.”