By: Claudia Repsold
In the backlands of northeastern region of Brazil, the land is parched and the semi-arid hills are rocky. For decades, it has been very difficult to make a living in this place; the wind blows hard knocking over the plants all day long, making it difficult to grow anything and jobs are scarce
Until a few years ago, the non-stop wind meant for the local population just more hardship fixing torn clay tiles ripped off their roofs by strong gusts or watching with despair their tomatoes fields be leveled – leaving them with empty stomach.
However, it all has changed. The constant winds of the region are not an inconvenience anymore. Actually, it started to blow some prosperity into this the long forgotten communities.
In the last seven years, Brazil became the 8th largest wind power generator in the world and has the biggest wind market in Latin America. The wind-power generation in Brazil has grown at a remarkable rate in a very short time. From practically zero in 2009 to an installed capacity that has now achieved a historic milestone exceeding the 10 GW mark.
Today, there are around 360 wind projects in operation in Brazil and the country aims to achieve 12% of its total power generation from wind by 2024.
Throughout Brazil, the wind energy currently generates 145,000 jobs, 41,000 of which were created just last year. The expectation is that by 2019, the production of the wind industry will reach the 277,000 jobs.The wind power sector is gaining a lot of traction in Brazil; other 175 projects are now under construction, representing $7 billion dollars in investment.
One of the biggest players in the Brazilian wind power market is French generator of renewable energy, Voltalia.
The turning point to Brazil achieve the historic milestone of 10 GW of installed wind capacity was reached thanks to the commissioning of Voltalia’s Vila Pará II facility, which is part of the largest wind cluster in Brazil, Serra Branca. In order to connect this cluster to the national grid, the French company built its own 52-km transmission line.
The CEO of Voltalia Brazil, Robert Klein was invited to speak at LatAm Leaders Forum in Miami where he shared the ropes of the renewable energy sector in Brazil with 250 other senior leaders from multiples countries.
Brazil & U.S Biz sat down with Mr. Klein to talk about the good wind that is blowing and moving forward the business of sustainable energy in Brazil.
Exclusive Interview Robert Klein, CEO of Voltaia Brazil: The french company that operates the largest wind cluster in Brazil
Brazil & U.S Biz: Last year, a third of the Voltalia group’s revenue was invested in Brazil. Is the country a priority for Voltalia?
Robert Klein: I think the company’s investment in Brazil was even larger than one third. The Brazilian market indeed is Voltalia’s priority; it reflects our goal to consolidate the company position as a leading international renewable power producer in Brazil.
Brazil & U.S Biz: Why the company chose Brazil?
Mr. Klein: Voltalia’s first projects were development in French Guiana, a country neighboring of Brazil. Right away, we realize the importance of the Brazilian market, the largest one in the region. At first, our focus was to invest in the Small Hydroelectric Plants but soon we understood that the wind power would have greater potential in Brazil at that moment. It wasn´t like we had planned in advance to go that way, we just follow the leads of the market and it turns out that it was right. Today, Voltalia investment in wind power plants in Brazil is a huge success.
Brazil & U.S Biz: Many people say that is difficult to do business in Brazil due to excessive regulation and endless bureaucracy. Was that a concern for Voltalia to operating in Brazil?
Mr. Klein: No. Every country has its own set of challenges that you need to learn to work with. The wind power regulations are very new in Brazil, everyone involved in the business are learning as it goes, that makes it easy to make fast changes to improve the process. The Brazilian government was very favorable to the renewable energy project, especially wind power plants. However, the political turmoil that Brazil went through, slowed things a bit – specially the approval of lines of credit with the BNDES bank, by far the largest creditor of the sector.
Brazil & U.S Biz: The Serra Branca wind cluster operates in a very poor region of Brazil. The wind farms are reviving the local economy. Do you think the sustainable energy industry is one of the solutions to create new jobs in places that otherwise would not have?
Mr.Klein: The local population where Voltalia operates really likes the company. The economy in their community used to be stagnant pushing young people to leave the city to find a job. Now, the wind power plants and farms brought prosperity to the region. People do not have to leave their family and roots behind anymore to get a job; they can get it right there. Not just in the local wind power plants and farms but also in the indirect jobs that it created. The locals are even protective of the company. A time ago, a lawyer appeared at the local mayor’s office offering to collect business taxes from the company citing a loophole in the law that he made up. The lawyer said would he would not charge any legal fees; instead, he would get 20% on the taxes that he managed to collect.
I do not know how, but the local population found out about this plot. A group of people went straight to the mayor’s office stating that Voltalia is very important to the local economy and they would not vote for anyone who would jeopardizes Voltalia’s operation in town. After that, the Mayor never met with the lawyer again.
I’m proud that the local people value our business. We try to sponsor all kind of social projects to improve the community, from art to health, to education and protecting the environment. We want to be a part of the community.
Brazil & U.S Biz: The renewable energy sector is a “Feels Good” business, where you can be profitable, generating good jobs while protecting the environment. Do you think this makes easy to attract new talent to the company?
Mr. Klein: You are right. It is a “Feels Good” business. People at our team are always happy with the work they are doing. They feel like they are creating new solution for old problems.
Today 6% of the Brazilian power matrix relies on wind energy and this percentage is growing fast. The renewable Energy Industry is creating nice and clean jobs in communities that had none before.
Our team feels proud that together we can bring opportunities that are making peoples life better. In the end of the day, is not just about the numbers on a spread sheet, is also about leaving your mark in this world, working for something that really matters and improves people’s life.
Claudia Repsold is the Editor-in-Chief of Brazil & USA Biz. She is a Brazilian international award- winning journalist with twenty years of experience in editing, research, coordination, production and reporting news on Brazil and U.S.