‘This Noise That Never Stops’: Wind Farms Come to Brazil’s Atlantic Coast

Source: ByDADO GALDIERIMAY, New York Times • Posted: Friday, May 25, 2018

A wind farm near Galinhos, Brazil. Lawmakers are proposing a tax on wind- and solar-generated power.Dado Galdieri for The New York Times

GALINHOS, Brazil — At night, blinking red dots fill the sky, and the sound of whooshing rotating blades is everywhere — constant reminders of the wind’s abundant presence here on Brazil’s Atlantic coast and its harvesting as a natural resource.

At daybreak, towers rising nearly 400 feet peek out high above the canopy of palm trees, like gigantic dandelions.

On this part of the Atlantic coast, the wind blows constantly and in one direction consistently, giving Brazil a steady stream for energy production. The country is now the world’s eighth-largest producer of wind power, according to the Global Wind Energy Council, a trade association, with wind farms operated by Weg, Siemens Gamesa, Wobben Windpower, among other companies.

A bride and groom posing for photos on the wind-sculpted cliffs of Tourinhos beach in Rio Grande do Norte. Dado Galdieri for The New York Times
Trees bent by the constant winds in São Roque cape, Rio Grande do Norte. Dado Galdieri for The New York Times
Tourists watching the sun set behind a wind farm from Tourinhos beach. Dado Galdieri for The New York Times

Still, investors are cautious, as the construction of transmission lines is slow, and poor infrastructure increases the price of imported parts. Now, lawmakers are proposing a tax on wind- and solar-generated power as the government hopes to profit from the moneymaking potential.

A mile from the beach, the view of the turbines reminds the rural area’s residents of both the possibilities and the impact of the industry.

At Morro dos Martins beach, about 80 miles northwest of Natal, Damiao Henrique, 70, plugged electric cables to a pump so he could water his bean plants. A fisherman and farmer, he was removed from his old strip of land and sent a few yards closer to the shore to allow space for a wind farm.

“But I am O.K.,” he said. “As compensation, I received energy from the company, and now I can water my beans more easily.”

Other local residents said the promised benefits had not appeared.

“The mayor said there would be schools,” said Maria Venus, 47, who owns a grocery store in Morro dos Martins. “They opened a music school for the community, gave us some guitars and after a year all was put on hold.”

And then there is the noise.

“Oh yes,” she added, “they also left this noise that never stops.”

 Northeast from Galinhos, between São Bento do Norte and Pedra Grande, contractors for Copel, the Parana State energy company, are building the enormous Cutia wind farm. When finished, its 149 turbine towers will be the company’s most significant project in the state of Rio Grande do Norte.

In Galinhos on a recent visit, youths advertised the city’s anniversary ball, cruising the streets in transformed beach buggies, loudspeakers in their trunks to call residents to the celebrations.

At the door of a crumbling old school where he was once a squatter, Jose Neto, 70, a fisherman, lit a handmade cigarette as he watched the merriment.

“I know little about taxes, but if it is used for our city, then it’s a good thing,” he said of the proposed windmill tax. “You know, we are so humble that any puff we can get is a big help.”

Fishermen taking their boat out of the sea in Morro dos Martins beach, Rio Grande do Norte. Dado Galdieri for The New York Times
The children of fishermen looking at a smartphone in Galinhos, where locals hope a wind tax will help development. Dado Galdieri for The New York Times
The view of the turbines reminds rural residents of both the possibilities and the impact of the industry.Dado Galdieri for The New York Times

At the celebrations themselves, local politicians mingled with residents of nearby villages. Giant speakers pumped out music for dancers on a scaffolding stage. Waiters carried plastic tables above their heads, offering them to anyone buying 12 bottles of beer. Families bought barbecue sticks from street carts.

Edton Barbosa, 56, a retired Petrobras oil exploration technician from Minas Gerais State, looked on. He said it was good that politicians were thinking about charging for the wind. “It will help develop this place,” he said, “as oil royalties have done for other areas lately.”

But the state must “create value around this strategic commodity,” he added, “or we are doomed to be energy exporters and have all this poverty around the wealth.”