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The Guri Dam and Simon Bolivar Hydroelectric Power Station

One of the most impressive sites I saw during my trip to Angel Falls and the Amazon was the massive Guri Dam – constructed in the Necuima Canyon approximately 62 miles above of the mouth of the Caroni River in the Orinoco Delta.   It’s known as The Simon Bolivar Hydroelectric Power Station and power generated by this dam supplies Venezuela with 82% of its electricity. The development, built in sections, continues to be a work in progress.

Research reveals that during the first stage, which began in 1963 and was finalized in 1978, the plant generated a capacity of 2,065 megawatts (one megawatt ‘MW’ is equal to one million watts), bringing the dam to a maximum level of 215 meters or approximately 650’ feet above sea level. Located here are two machine rooms with ten generators each, producing up to ten million kilowatts an hour.  The final stage of the Guri Dam was concluded in 1986; this allowed the dam to elevate the water to a maximum level of 272 meters.  During this stage a second power plant was constructed that houses 10 units of 630 MW each. 

Currently, the Guri Dam, which produces 10,200 MW per day, occupies the third place in hydroelectric plants in the world with the Three Gorges Dam (China) being first and the Itapúa Dam between Brazil and Paraguay being second; however, two of the largest dams in the world are currently being built in Brazil’s Amazon. In addition to this, there are several other dams across Venezuela serving local needs. 

I found it interesting to consider that for Venezuela to produce such an enormous amount of energy out of oil/fossil fuel, it would take a daily production of 300,000 barrels.  Or, to put it another way, out of the 2.4 million barrels of crude oil that are produced daily in Venezuela one eighth would go for electricity instead of export, resulting in quite a difference to the national economy plus  saving approximately 20 million tons of CO2 per year from going into the atmosphere – making the dam very “green” indeed.

The lake artificially formed is now the second biggest in the country (after Maracaibo Lake) with an area of 3919 km.  However, this is definitely a Catch 22.  Obviously, at the rate the world uses electricity, hydroelectric power is needed.  However, some of the Pemon Indians that I spoke with in the area gave me the environmental scenario.  When the lake was created it completely destroyed thousands of square miles of rainforest, known for its biodiversity and rare wildlife, as well as displacing many indigenous Indian tribes.  As the water level began to rise, a rescue operation of animals was formed by the Indians using their long boats, known locally as Curiaras, to move the animals to safe grounds; thousands of animals died and species were annihilated.

Years later, in a second session of level rise, a different rescue operation was made, because the filling speed was slower.  Ironically, the lake is now considered one of the best fishing areas in the world for Pavones and the chartering potential, for both sail and power vessels, is tremendous, yet untapped.

The dam is also a source for some of Venezuela’s greatest visual art.  Carlos Cruz Diez, an internationally known and recognized Venezuelan artist, has created an aesthetic composition displaying the Sun and Moon astrologically squared – a progress vs. nature theme which, I am sure, was influenced by the displacement of the local population.  However, national park authorities have been very instrumental in creating recreational facilities throughout the area including the construction of the Necuima National Park, a great favorite of not only tourists but locals as well. 

Considering the electricity and resulting water and land activities, the Guri Dam has resulted in one of the premier locations in the country and I consider myself fortunate to have been able to observe this vast structure.

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