The Itaipu Hydroelectric power plant is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. One of the world’s largest hydroelectric dams, Itaipu was only recently surpassed in production capacity by China’s Three Gorges dam In 2008, a record breaking year, Itaipu produced 94.7 billion kilowatt hours worth of energy. The hydroelectric dam is managed by the Entidad Binacional Itaipu, an organization that is part governmental organization part private company and is jointly run by Brazil and Paraguay. The energy produced by the hydroelectric reserve is split evenly between the two countries with ten turbines under Brazilian ownership and the other 10 under Paraguayan ownership. Energy from two turbines is used to cover approximately 71 percent of Paraguay’s national energy needs (though one hundred percent could be covered if Paraguay’s energy
transmission infrastructure were improved). Paraguay sells energy from the remaining turbines to Brazil at a controversially low price (see The Divisive Dam). Through Itaipu, Brazil is able to cover approximately 16 percent of its national energy needs.
Sidebar: The name Itaipu comes from Guarani and means singing stone in reference to the sound of water hitting a small island located near the original construction site. Ita means stone, y means water or river, and Pu means sound or noise.
Initial planning for the dam began in 1966, though the official Itaipu Treaty between Brazil and Paraguay was not signed until 1973. In order to allow for construction of the dam a two km long channel was excavated to reroute the Parana River. The detour channel was completed in 1978 and construction of the dam itself took place between 1978 and 1982. The sheer manpower needed was responsible for the rapid growth of both Foz do Iguazu and Ciudad del Este. At one point Itaipu employed over 40,000 people, almost as many people as were forced to relocate from the projected flood zone. In late 1982 the Parana River was dammed and the ensuing flooding filled what was from then on known as the Itaipu Reservoir. Construction was completed in 1991 with a final bill of US$ 18 billion. The resulting monolithic structure is eight kilometers long, 196 meters tall and comprised of over 12 million cubic meters of concrete. Touring the dam can be fascinating, though even at Paraguay’s most popular tourist destination English speaking guides are hard to come by.
In addition to the dam itself the Itaipu complex includes an Environmental Center made up of the Museo de Tierra Guarani, a zoo, six nature reserves, an aquiculture station, forestry project, and a hydraulic lab. Visits to all Itaipu facilities are free of charge although the nature reserves, aquiculture station, and hydraulic lab, require advanced reservations and special permissions. For reservations and more information contact the Visitors Center (Centro de Reception de Visitas or CRV). Tel: 061 599-8040, www.Itaipu.gov.py, rpmd@Itaipu.gov.py Touring the Dam
The only way to see the dam is by joining an official guided tour. Visitors are required to bring ID (such as a passport) and register at the visitor’s center before the tour. Tours include an introductory video about the construction of the dam, a tour of the inside of the dam including the machine room, and a bus ride through the complex which includes an elevated view of the dam and spillways. If you are lucky one of the fourteen 483-meter long spillways will be open. This impressive sight is rare as spillways are only opened when there has been a true excess of rain and flooding upriver (visiting during an El Nino year ups your chances). Tour hours: Mon-Fri 8am, 9:30am, 2pm, 3pm, Sat 8am, 9:30am, 10:30am, 2pm, 3pm, Sun 8am, 9:30am, 10:30am Technical Tours
Technical tours of the dam are available for professionals in the sciences (such as engineers). These tours must be solicited in writing at least one week prior to the visit with the Centro de Reception de Visitantes (if you are visiting with a tour operator they can make these arrangements for you). The tour is about 2.5 hours and includes a walk deep into the dam itself where you can stand at the very foot of the dam with 273 meters of cement separating you from the 1,350-square-kilometer reservoir filled with 29 billion cubic meters of water.
Luces de Itaipu Light Show
Itaipu also offers a brief night time show that consists of a movie about the dam and a five minute light show, set to music, during which the length of the dam is slowly illuminated. As with the regular Itaipu tours this show is free of charge. However it is necessary to reserve a space (leaving ID or passport number) by Thursday afternoons. Plan to take private transportation (cab or tour company) as buses are unreliable at this hour. Fri-Sat 7:30pm-10pm (winter hours may vary).
Itaipu Map Paraguay Photo Gallery
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