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Natural fortress: projects invest in the "green" to ensure water and energy security

segunda-feira, maio 30, 2022


At the end of the 1970s, at a time when environmental laws were incipient, the Itaipu Binacional plant in Foz do Iguaçu (PR) began what today became the largest reforestation program in the world ever made by a hydroelectric plant, with 24 million trees planted. In São Paulo, for more than a decade, Sabesp has maintained the Green Belt project, which has already promoted the planting of 845,000 trees from the Atlantic Forest biome in the last five years alone, helping to preserve metropolitan springs. Further south, Copel maintains approximately 14,000 hectares of Permanent Preservation Areas (APPs) around its reservoirs in the states of Paraná and Santa Catarina.

In addition to strengthening nature, other giants providing essential services have found a way to unite environmental actions with social projects. To improve the management of real estate and increase the safety of the population surrounding the transmission line areas, Enel Distribuição São Paulo promotes the Hortas em Rede project in partnership with the NGO Cidades sem Fome and Engie Brasil Energia promotes partnerships with local communities in Bahia to recover springs.

What these projects have in common is that they fall as Nature-Based Solutions (SBN) - a concept created by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and have managed to take advantage of ecosystem services of the environment in business, with ecological, social and economic benefits.

According to experts, investment in projects that care for the environment while generating income would have a positive impact in Brazil as anywhere else in the world, since the country brings together about 20% of all biodiversity on the planet, according to the UN.

Making peace with nature

The Itaipu Binacional hydroelectric plant was one of the most ambitious engineering and diplomacy projects, and is fundamental to the energy security of Brazil and Paraguay. Meanwhile, nature has charged its price. When the power plant's floodgates closed, it took only 14 days to flood an area of 1,350 square kilometers, causing a huge environmental impact that caused Seven Falls, one of the largest waterfalls on the planet, to disappear.

Before that, in 1979, the plant had already begun its reforestation project by demarcating the forest curtain of the reservoir protection strip. Itaipu Binacional's superintendent of environmental management, Ariel Scheffer, recalls that the company was born in the wake of an environmental agenda that began in the world.

"At the Stockholm meeting [in 1972], the first world forum dealing with environmental issues, Brazil was heavily criticized on the environmental issue and shortly after Itaipu was set up (...). It all started with a forest restoration strategy thinking about the life of the plant, as the sediments entering the reservoir have diminished the potential to generate energy and affect business."

In Scheffer's calculations, the reservoir has about 180 years of service life. Managing the entry and exit of sediments allows to reduce the risk of silting up the Paraná River. "Each year of loss of life of the reservoir represents up to 4 billion dollars in power generation for Brazil and Paraguay, it is a very big effect for countries," he says.

Itaipu's project goes beyond what the law mandates and includes the protected areas and riprica forests of 29 municipalities in the Paraná River Basin 3, the region of influence of the plant, and had partnerships of communities, municipalities and local leaders, strengthening democratic mechanisms and social participation.

By 2021, more than 24 million trees were planted, helping to preserve springs and the energy security of Brazil and Paraguay, as the plant accounts for 8.4% of all energy consumed in Brazil and 85.6% of Paraguay's energy.

Good for business (and for society)

The recent water crisis of 2021 was considered the worst in the last 91 years and exposed the vulnerability that most companies in the electricity sector have in the face of the water cycle. Copel GeT, Copel's generation and transmission arm, is heist ly dependent on hydraulic generation, so keeping the water mirror protected is crucial.

The company's forestry engineer, Robinson Sebastian Selner, says that the company abandoned a traditional and deterministic system of forest restoration, which was carried out primarily by planting native species of different successional stages of vegetation. Selner says that the methodology did not guarantee good results in some field conditions, but with studies and new techniques they had better results.

"With the evolution of the understanding of the processes of natural regeneration of the vegetation it was possible to conceive new methodologies of forest restoration, as is the case of no-sowing (muvuca), nucleation and conduction of natural regeneration (...). Thus, the areas under restoration promote the expected benefits in a shorter period of time, protecting the soil and water, avoiding the transport of sedimentto the reservoirs and ensuring longer service life for hydroelectric projects", explains.

The engineer states that, depending on the natural capacity of each area, different methodologies are indicated, which ensure greater effectiveness and lower costs per hectare restored. "We have maintenance, replanting actions. In a conventional plantation, the cost per hectare can reach R$ 80,000, while in the planting that has the fastest result and covering suitability with the new technique the cost per hectare can reach half of this".

Engie Brasil Energia also has 78% of the generating park concentrated in hydroelectric plants throughout Brazil and sees water as a crucial insum for business. Since 2010, the company has been developing the Spring Conservation Program, carried out in partnership with government and third sector organizations in several regions of Brazil. Engie counts about 2300 springs that were protected in the area of influence of 14 plants operated by the company.

"The methodology adopted for the program varies according to the specificities of each region where it is developed, considering cultural, socioeconomic and environmental aspects, among others. In general, it includes the identification of the springs, the analysis of the risks of contamination present in the site, the assessment of water quality, the construction of the protection infrastructure", says the company's Administrative Director, Luciana Nabarrete.

In 2017, the company began the partnership with the Association of Residents of Brejo da Brásida (AMBB), a community of Sento Sé, bahia, a region of the Brazilian semi-arid region where water is a scarce resource. In June 2021, another agreement was signed with the Campo Largo II consortium and AMBB for the implementation of the Brazilian Waters Program Project. "The focus is on the recovery of six springs from the Brejo da Brasida Community by the end of 2022, with investment in more than R$ 302,000," says Nabarrete.

Ecosystem services

More than two-thirds of the Brazilian population lives and depends on the Atlantic Forest, but many know little about the biome. The demand for food, maintenance of water resources, among other environmental services has pressured large sanitation companies to take a better look at their role in society.

The Green Belt of Metropolitan Springs program, maintained by the Basic Sanitation Company of the State of São Paulo (Sabesp), is part of the Nascent program of the Government of the State of São Paulo and has already promoted the planting of 845,000 trees in the last five years. The operations are concentrated in four supply systems of the metropolitan region: Cantareira, Alto Cotia, Rio Claro and Fazenda Capivari (Capivari-Monos Environmental Protection area that is part of Guarapiranga).

With this work, only in the Cantareira System the vegetation cover index jumped from 61% in the 1980s to 80% in 2021. The four systems included in the program are in areas belonging to Sabesp and total an area of approximately 44,000 hectares within conservation units, 9,000 hectares of water mirror and 35,000 hectares of area around these springs.

"The Green Belt has important environmental results in reconstituting the Atlantic Forest and preserving water sources, which is very good for society and for all of us. It also brings gains to the company, because it contributes to the quality of this water. This is because the vegetation around the springs reduces erosion and siltation and prevents disorderly occupation and contamination by debris," says Sabesp's CEO, Benedito Braga, in an interview with One Planet. The executive adds that the project prevents the unbalanced proliferation of aquatic plants, reducing the costs of treating raw water intended for consumers.

In the capital and São Paulo, the Hortas em Rede project of Enel Distribuição São Paulo, was born out of necessity to protect transmission lines from irregular occupation and increase the safety of the population around the areas of transmission lines, inhibiting damage by actions of third parties and possible accidents with the electricity network.

There are three vegetable gardens in the East Zone of the capital that add up to about 15,000 square meters.In four years, the project has already provided more than R$ 1.2 million in income to farmers. The Director of Sustainability of Enel Brazil, Marcia Massotti, explains that the project's model of action is scalable and can be replicated in other transmission lines that occupy an extensive concession area.

"We have approximately 800 km of area in São Paulo that can be evaluated for implementation of future projects. We are also evaluating the implementation of the project in other distributors in our concession area.", says Massotti.

Investments

Planning nature-based solutions to meet the climate challenge and ensuring the safety of essential services involves a collective effort where transparency and accountability gain even more relevance.

In the last 5 years, Sabesp has invested approximately R$ 525,000 per year in planting and maintenance of seedlings in the Nascent Program.Added to the asset surveillance actions of other preserved areas, the average is approximately R$ 11.5 million per year.

In the case of Copel GeT, annual investments can range from R$ 500,000 to R$ 5 million per year, depending on the necessary interventions at each site and the project phase of each project. Engie's Spring Preservation Program has received more than R$ 1.65 million in direct or encouraged investments. Enel and Itaipu did not disclose how much they have in the projects.

Although they are still understood by many corporations as cost, nature-based solutions require investments below the return generated to businesses and surrounding communities, and are a guarantee of financial sustainability and wealth generation in the long run.

Source: Um só Planeta

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