The first generating units at Belo Monte's 11,200-MW Belo Monte hydroelectric plant have begun commercial operation, according to a statement from development group Norte Energia.
Generating Unit No. 1 is the first of 18 611.11 MW Francis-type turbines to be located in Belo Monte's main powerhouse. Testing of the unit began in February. The company said the units to come on line at a rate of about one every two months.
Norte Energia said the project's civil works are almost complete. The main powerhouse and an auxiliary powerhouse, filled with six 28.8 MW bulb turbines, is expected to be in full operation in 2019.
The 11.2 GW hydropower project has faced widespread controversy from a number of groups throughout its development, with a timeline marked by worksite occupations, approval cancelations, worker deaths and court-ordered work stoppages.
Most recently, a federal court revoked an injunction set by Brazil's Institute of the Environment and Natural Resources (IBAMA) denied an operating license for the plant, saying its developer, Norte Energia, had failed to meet conditions required for its approval.
Budgeted at US$26 billion, Belo Monte is being built on the Xingu River in Brazil's northern Para State and will be the world's third largest hydroelectric complex when completed. Belo Monte has a completion deadline of 2018, though Norte Energia filed a request for a construction extension this past June.
A federal court rejected a request in July from from a public prosecutor to suspend work on the project because Norte Energia was accused of failing to consult properly with aboriginal groups potentially affected by Belo Monte.
Most recently, four workers were abducted for their association with the project in March.
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