Governador José Richa Hydroelectric Plant, Brazil

In December 1998, the Governador José Richa hydroelectric plant came on stream. Located on the river Iguaçu in Brazil, the hydro plant provides over 6,500MW of capacity with an average annual output of 8,017.5GW/h, meeting electricity demands of approximately 4.5 million residents.

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Salto Caxias, River Iguaçu, Brazil


In December 1998, the Governador José Richa hydroelectric plant came on stream. Located on the river Iguaçu in Brazil, the hydro plant provides over 6,500MW of capacity with an average annual output of 8,017.5GW/h, meeting electricity demands of approximately 4.5 million residents.

The installed capacity of the plant is 1,240MW. Formerly known as Salto Caxias Hydro Electric Power Plant, the hydropower plant was renamed Governador José Richa Hydroelectric Plant in February 1999.

State-owned Companhia Paranaense de Energia (COPEL) is the electric utility company for the Brazilian State of Paraná and supplies power to the south of Brazil. In the mid-1990s, the company recognised that a rapid growth of electricity consumption would require it to build new capacity. It already operates a number of large hydropower stations, including four plants on the river Iguaçu. The $1bn José Richa hydropower project is downstream from the plants.

Governador José Richa Hydroelectric Plant generated 130MW/h of electrical energy since its inception. The concession awarded to COPEL for operating the plant was extended until 2030.

Governador José Richa plant location

The Governador José Richa Hydroelectric Plant is located on the Iguaçu River between the cities of Capitão Leonidas Marques and Nova Prata do Iguaçu in the state of Paraná, Brazil.

The site benefits from of a natural 180° bend in the river, where it is streaming over shallow rapids. The powerhouse is located on the narrow wedge of land extending into the river at the bend.

The river was dammed across the upstream leg of the bend with a gravity roller compacted concrete dam. The dam diverts water into four steel penstocks and each of them feeds the water to a vertical-shaft Francis turbine. After passing through the turbines, the water is returned to the river in the downstream leg of the bend. The head of water created across the river bend is 50m to 68m.

Construction of the hydropower project began in January 1995. The first of the four turbines started operations in February 1999 and the fourth and final unit entered commercial service before the end of 1999. This was a remarkably fast completion of a $1 billion hydro project.

Gravity roller-compacted concrete dam

“The Salto Caxias dam is 1,100m long and has created a reservoir covering 180km².”

The José Richa dam is 1,100m-long, 67m-high and forms a reservoir covering a 180km² area. The dam is a gravity roller-compacted (RCC) type and is the eighth largest dam of its type in the world.

Intertechne Consultores Associados (IAC) conducted the design and project engineering work. IAC is a consortium, consisting of Intertechne, LEME, Engevix and Esteio Consultores Associados. COPEL and ICA discovered that the RCC would be 25% less expensive than a rock-fill dam.

Conventional concrete was used to face the vertical upstream layer of the dam to provide an impermeable seal. The concrete was also used between layers of RCC to build up steps and form the downstream side of the dam. DM Construtora de Obras Ltda carried out the civil works.

The dam has a spillway with 14 radial gates, each 16.5m-wide and 20.0m-high, to release water into the main river channel. The spillway can discharge almost 50,000m³/s. 15 sluiceways feed water into the power station intake channel. The intake channel feeds four carbon steel penstocks that are 11m in diameter and 107m-long. A consortium of BSA, Coemsa and Barefame manufactured the penstocks.

COPEL noticed cracks in the dam when it filled the reservoir in late 1998. In 2005, COPEL announced it will fix the cracks and conduct studies to determine the cause.

Governador José Richa powerhouse and turbines

180m-long powerhouse features four vertical-shaft 310MW Francis turbines supplied by Kvaerner and four generators supplied by Ansaldo Coemsa. Kvaerner and Ansaldo Coemsa formed a consortium to bid for the project and were awarded the contract in December 1995.

The turbines had to be able to manage a relatively wide variation in the head of water, which was 50m to 68m. The COPEL specification required minimal cavitation at both full and partial loads.

The design chosen by Kvaerner was similar to the design that the company used for the Three Gorges project in China. The turbines have 7.6m-diameter X-blades, which provide a high level of cavitation resistance and offer a 91.5% operational efficiency at the design speed of 90rpm.

“The plant’s powerhouse is 180m long and houses four 310MW turbines.”

Components for the turbines were made in a number of locations and shipped to the site for assembly. Forgemaster in the UK made the turbine shaft assembly. Canadian Steel Foundries and Lokomo Steel of Finland shared the manufacture of turbine blades and Alstom in France supplied the hub and band. The completed turbine runner weighed 160t. At the beginning of 1998, Beckwith sold and shipped five M-3430 Integrated Protection System relays to COPEL for José Richa.

Beckwith engineers travelled to Brazil for commissioning and testing of the relays. Four relays entered commercial operation and one was kept as a spare.

Generators and control systems

A consortium of ABB Brazil, Coemsa and Bardella supplied four synchronous generators and Ansaldo Coemsa pre-assembled the units. The generators are the vertically mounting synchronous type with a rated output of 845MVA at 16kV and 60Hz and a power factor of 0.90. Toshiba-Mitsui supplied the switchyard equipment and ABB Brazil provided transformers.

ABB supplied its OCS (Open Control System) for the project. The system has 20 distributed programmable controllers connected by a fibre optic network. Each controller has specific local functions, including human-machine interface (HMI), data management, analysis and storage. The plant management system includes plant history, automated reports and other functions to support operation and maintenance of the power station.

Specialised turbine and generator monitors are interfaced with the OCS system. Bruel & Kjaer and Rittmeyer supplied the turbine monitoring system. VibroSystM provided generator monitoring equipment. The plant is controlled from a central control room located in the powerhouse. Full remote control from the COPEL head office in Curitiba, which is 100km away, is also possible.

In November 2019, ABB was contracted to provide an excitation system and speed regulation for the four plant generators. The upgrade will enable the plant to improve the visibility of its operational data using predictive diagnostics and increasing the plant’s efficiency.

The contract also includes the installation of a speed turbine regulator and complied with Brazil’s grid code regulations.

ABB is also responsible for providing asset and lifecycle management services for the plant.

Governador José Richa plant cost

The overall project cost of $1bn was made up of six parts. The supply and installation of electromechanical and the civil construction work accounted for just over half of the total amount. COPEL’s internal costs for project management, financial provision, insurance and other administrative matters accounted for a further 16%. Project consultants’ fees were $40 million or 4% of the projected total project cost. A further 3% was spent in providing services, temporary buildings and site management.

The remaining 25% was spread across 26 separate programmes to mitigate the social and environmental impact of the project. There was a resettlement programme for 1,000 families, owners and workers on farms in the area now covered by the reservoir. This included not only land provision but also an investment in healthcare provision, construction of community centres and churches, and road building.

COPEL provided active support to the displaced communities for the first three years after their relocation. Other programmes included protection of ecosystems, environmental monitoring and the preservation of historical artefacts from the area.

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